Review: Queen of the Night

I wouldn’t say I was struck with terror. But it’s fair to say I felt nervous about seeing The Queen of the Night. It’s another immersive piece from Randy Weiner, the producer behind Sleep No More. It’s a hit, I believe, though not on the level of Sleep No More (tickets are currently on sale through September but they hope to keep it around until the end of the year or so). It does seem to be the show of the moment. Loads of friends keep asking me about it, or going to see it themselves. So why would it make me nervous?

  • From what I understood, this show was even more immersive than Sleep No More. This one has a Dionysian, sexualized theme and involves actors rubbing up against you! Kissing your neck! Or something like that. Isherwood’s review makes the whole thing sound totally intrusive. I am not huge on this sort of thing. (In fact I’ve been accused of liking theater so much because it lets me observe life at a safe distance.) Were they going to make me take off items of clothing? Surely not. But how on earth would I pretend to be comfortable with strangers coming after me?
  • Your ticket also includes a very meaty dinner. (I’m a vegan.)

On the other hand:

  • I really liked Sleep No More, and have heard very good things about Queen of the Night, as well.
  • Several drinks are included in the ticket price. As the wise and hilarious podcasters of Joes at Shows have said, any theatrical event that provides you with alcohol is already off to a good start.
  • The show takes place at the Diamond Horseshoe, a newly renovated performance space below the Paramount Hotel. Previously it had been a 1940s hotspot. I love these kinds of spaces and was anxious to see this one.

So when I was offered a free ticket through Jada (who continues to be awesome and is one of this blog’s best supporters) I quashed my fears and jumped on the opportunity. As advertised, upon arrival you’re immediately presented with a specialty cocktail, and encouraged to wander around awhile (and interact with the performers) before the main performance begins.

So what’s this show about? Well, the storyline is a bit nebulous. It can be summed up as “a young girl’s initiation into womanhood.” I’m not familiar with The Magic Flute, but Queen of the Night is apparently based on its story: Pamina is the daughter of the Queen, and has to decide between two suitors. We see many carnivalesque celebrations of Pamina’s transition to adulthood: magic tricks, aerial silk performers, tumbling, knife-throwing, juggling, clowning, and so on. Queen of the Night is essentially a circus with dinner and drinks.

And it works! That’s primarily because of the outstanding cast: “Oh my gosh I love dancers,” as I kept telling my table during the show. These performers (Jada recognized several of them from Traces) are acrobatic, compelling, talented, fit, sexy. The older I get, the more I find myself simply amazed at the things dancers can do, and these ones do it very, very well. With no playbill, I can’t name names, but I was particularly impressed with the juggler and the Queen. It also fits incredibly well into the venue, which is essentially an enormous supper club with old fashioned, gold-plated detail as well as modern touches (lighting in test tubes, for example, at the bar.)

Fortunately, Queen of the Night is less in-your-face than I had feared: if you aren’t entirely comfortable with one-on-one interactions, I don’t think you will have to worry about it too much. At our table, the performers mostly just cozied up to the nearest audience member; since I was seated against the wall, I got to watch the show untouched. Good thing, too, because I actually found the immersive stuff to be far less interesting than the circus happening onstage. I don’t think everyone would feel this way. People all around seemed to really enjoy interacting with the actors. (One performer admitted after the show that he likes working at the show, but is a bit sick of being groped by drunk people. No surprise there.) I sat with a group of very nice and convivial new friends, which was ideal: we commented on the acts, enjoyed a good meal, shared plates, and had an all around lovely time. This show might not stand out as great theater, but it’s fun, it’s lively, and can make for a fantastic shared experience with friends. Don’t go by yourself, though. It wouldn’t be nearly as fun.

As for the food: it actually was quite good and there were veggie-friendly options*. I had eaten a little something before the performance so I wasn’t starving anyway, but the kale salad tasted great and there was a cauliflower dish as well as a mushroom risotto. (I mostly just stuck with the salad.) They also gave us fruit, nuts, bread and olives for the table. Speaking of the food, I have to mention my least favorite part of the show: At the end of dinner everyone tosses their metal plates complete with leftovers — and there were lots of leftovers at our table — into a huge vat. I was completely taken out of the moment, because this felt so incredibly wasteful. I’d have been delighted to have the kale salad for lunch the next few days, but that was minor compared to all the beef, pork and lobster that were tossed into the bin. Maybe they compost?

My grade: B+
Running Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes (though we arrived a bit late, so it was closer to 2½)
Ticket price: Free
Worth it: Well, yes, obviously, since I didn’t pay for the ticket. I believe the regular ticket price is $140 or so, and I actually think that’s fair. You get a lot for your money.
Standing Ovation Watch: Not exactly. But we were encouraged to get up and dance at the end.

*Fellow vegans: 99% of the time at restaurants, I ask if there are animal products in the salad dressing or whatever. I didn’t last night, so you’ll have to double check yourself.

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