Alumna has reason to celebrate ‘Diana: The Musical’

Jeanna de Waal as Diana, Princess of Wales. Photo courtesy Netflix
By Meredith Camel

Jeanna de Waal as Diana, Princess of Wales. Photo courtesy Netflix

Alumna has reason to celebrate ‘Diana: The Musical’

By Meredith Camel
Ronnie Jackowitz Jacobson shares her journey from teacher to Broadway producer.

Anglophiles everywhere are celebrating the Oct. 1 Netflix release of “Diana: The Musical,” which chronicles the turbulent life of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. But the day is particularly momentous for University of Miami alumna Ronnie Jackowitz Jacobson, who is working in association with WitzEnd Productions, a coproducer of the show. 

Through Sunshine Productions, the company that Jacobson founded in 2015 with fellow University alumna Eileen Lamchick, Jacobson has worked on Broadway titles such as “Tuck Everlasting,” “Escape to Margaritaville,” “Getting the Band Back Together,” and the Tony-winning “Once on This Island.” 

“Broadway shows today are incredibly expensive, so they have a lead producer as well as several different levels of producers,” Jacobson explained. “When I sign onto a show, I’m asked to bring in a certain amount of money. But I never actually ask people for money. I just talk about this incredible journey I’m on, and people say they want to come along on this magical ride.” 

Ronnie Jackowitz Jacobson
Ronnie Jackowitz Jacobson

Jacobson’s love of theater began in the performance spaces of Miami Beach during the 1950s and ’60s. Her father—a professional tap dancer turned real estate broker—took her to see Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Eydie Gorme, and other luminaries whenever they came to town.

After graduating in 1969 with a bachelor’s degree in education from the University, Jacobson became a fifth-grade teacher. She taught in Miami-Dade County Public Schools for 16 years, getting her master’s degree from the University along the way and greeting her students every day with the song “Getting to Know You” from the Broadway musical “The King and I.” She retired from teaching to raise her children and became an active member of the alumni board for the School of Education and Human Development. 

Jacobson’s foray into Broadway producing came at the urging of her nephew, Michael Jackowitz, founder of WitzEnd Productions, who had a hunch that her contagious smile and easygoing personality would be a good fit for the role. This year Jacobson is also working with WitzEnd to develop endeavors in digital theater, which combines technology—such as green screens that display elaborate scenes—with actor performances in productions that can be streamed for a fraction of the cost of live theater. 

Streaming services have given Broadway enthusiasts their fix during the COVID-19 pandemic and Great White Way shutdown. They also increase accessibility of the art form for those unable to attend in person. But, as Jacobson noted, “streaming will never take the place of live theater. It opens up a whole new dimension for people; it brings so much happiness.”

Happiness is how Jacobson knew she wanted to be part of “Diana.” While scouting the pre-Broadway premiere in La Jolla, California, in February of 2019, she paid close attention to audience reactions, which were overwhelmingly positive. 

“People are obsessed with Diana,” Jacobson said. “She had such a big heart and did so many wonderful things. This is a great way to celebrate her life, even though it had a tragic ending. And now that everyone is so enamored with Prince Harry, Meghan Markle, and all of the royals, I thought, how could it miss?” 

Jacobson and other producers had a chance to provide feedback in La Jolla to the lead producers. Then COVID-19 prevented the final version of the show from opening on Broadway—until now. “Diana” is set to begin previews in the Longacre Theater on Nov. 2, with opening night on Nov. 17. 

Jacobson had no trouble selling the concept of “Diana.” Investors in her previous shows know that whether or not a show becomes a hit, they will have opportunities to attend premiere parties, hobnob with entertainers, and gain an insider’s view of the business of Broadway. But whether speaking to her core group of investors or people eager to join her theatrical journey, Jacobson is always transparent about the volatility of the business. 

“I always say that if this is money you need to put your child or grandchild through college, don’t do it.” Jacobson said. “But if you have expendable income, not only are you helping to support the arts, you will have the time of your life—and who knows, maybe even find the next ‘Wicked.’ ”