Queen of the Night: Theater Review
Diamond Horseshoe, New York (runs through March 9)
Randy Weiner, Murtaza Akbar, Simon Hammerstein
The legendary nightspot Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe has been gloriously resurrected for this lavish and immersive theater experience.
Queen of the Night delivers an experience that you won’t soon forget. This inaugural offering at the Diamond Horseshoe -- the famed nightspot opened in 1938 by legendary impresario Billy Rose that has lain dormant for more than six decades -- is an immersive theatrical production that has the feel of an erotically tinged bacchanal. You’ll feel as if you’ve entered a time machine and emerged into a deliciously licentious gala resembling the orgy sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.
The transporting aspect is immediately apparent upon descending the decrepit grand staircase, littered with ropes and fallen chandeliers, that brings you two floors below the Paramount Hotel. You’re then personally escorted into the 6,000 square foot ballroom, virtually unused since it closed in 1951, which has been given a $20 million facelift courtesy of the hotel’s owner, Aby Rosen.
The ensuing three-hour proceedings are supposedly inspired by Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute, but don’t bother to peruse its libretto before attending. It concerns a debutante ball thrown by the Marchesa (Martha Graham company dancer Katherine Crockett) for her daughter Pamina. But the loose storyline is mainly an excuse for a lavish exercise combining circus, dance and musical performances; a bountiful dinner; and intimately interactive experiences with the scantily clad, large ensemble.
It begins with the audience mingling and downing specialty drinks served at a bar festooned with glass beakers filled with bubbling liquid. You’re free to wander through the giant interior space while being regaled with acrobatic feats performed by members of the Montreal-based circus troupe 7 Fingers. Occasionally you’re pulled away by the performers to partake in more intimate experiences: a private show of card tricks by magician Steve Cuiffo; being made to read erotic passages aloud to a naked woman taking a bath; and, in an encounter I particularly enjoyed, passing through a gauntlet of gorgeous young women delivering a series of sexy challenges, including having me share personal secrets and passionately kiss one of them on the neck. "Do it again like you mean it," she chastised me after my first, apparently half-hearted attempt.
You then sit at large communal tables for a dinner that randomly includes such fare as a roast suckling pig, whole lobsters and beef ribs so enormous they would have satisfied Fred Flintstone. Diners are encouraged to barter with those at other tables to try the different offerings, and it ends with a ceremonial throwing of the steel plates into large bins rolled up by the waiters.
Created by Randy Weiner -- a veteran of immersive theater whose credits include The Donkey Show and the still-running hit Sleep No More -- along with Murtaza Akbar and Simon Hammerstein, the show is both familiar and repetitious at times, with such exotic elements as a female knife-thrower and a man fiercely wielding a bullwhip more than a little reminiscent of the naughty fare at the downtown nightspot The Box, co-owned by Weiner and Hammerstein. But the evening is mostly about delivering a deliciously decadent atmosphere, and in that it succeeds in spades. It represents a marvelous collaboration among director Christine Jones; circus creator Shana Carroll; fashion designer Thom Browne, who's created a quirky assemblage of sexy, body-baring costumes; choreographer Lorin Latarro, and set designer Douglas Little, who's transformed the formerly dilapidated space into a glittery showplace filled with hidden passageways and secret chambers.
It all ends with the snappily-attired crowd -- you’re requested in advance to "Dress to Please the Queen" -- heading out to the dance floor and being personally spoonfed bites of cake for dessert.
Representing the latest example of the increasingly popular immersive theater genre, Queen of the Night should be filling its cavernous venue for a long time to come. Billy Rose would have been proud.
Venue: Diamond Horseshoe, New York (runs through March 9)
Cast: Katherine Crockett, Steve Cuiffo
Creators: Randy Weiner, Murtaza Akbar, Simon Hammerstein
Director: Christine Jones
Producers: Nathan Koch, Jennie Willink
Circus creator: Shana Carroll
Food performance creator: Jennifer Rubell
Associate director: Jenny Koons
Creative director: Giovanna Battaglia
Set and scent designer: Douglas Little
Fashion designer: Thom Browne
Lighting designer: Austin R. Smith
Sound designer: Darron L. West, Charles Coes
Magic designer: Steve Cuiffo
Choreographer: Lorin Latarro
Presented by Aby Rosen, Murtaza Akbar, Simon Hammerstein, Javier Vivas, Randy Weiner