“This is the best dinner theater ever,” my companion said to me about halfway through Queen of the Night, the immersive, all-inclusive presentation running at the resurrected Diamond Horseshoe at the Paramount Hotel. The six-thousand-square-foot nightclub, which was opened by impresario Billy Rose in 1938 and hosted many a celebrity and performer until its closing in 1951, is now home to the decadently delightful Queen of the Night, a three-hour affair inspired by Mozart’s The Magic Flute and the real-life adventures of the Marchesa Luisa Casati, the Italian heiress, patron, muse, and original female dandy who once declared, “I want to be a living work of art.” And that’s exactly what she is in the show, as portrayed by Martha Graham veteran Katherine Crockett in a tantalizing mask and an elegant, dramatic flowing white gown accessorized by two life-size sculptures of caressing gold hands. The abstract narrative ostensibly follows young initiate Pamina (Valerie Benoit-Charbonneau), the Marchesa’s daughter, who is caught between the sorcerer Sarastro (Will Underwood) and her true love, Tamino (Tristan Nielsen). But Queen of the Night is really about lavish spectacle, as minor characters perform dazzling acrobatics, diving through hoops, climbing poles, juggling unusual objects, riding a Cyr wheel, and dangling from the ceiling from aerial silk. (The circus elements come courtesy of Shana Carroll and her Montreal troupe Les 7 Doigts de la Main, including Olaf Triebel, Emilie Desvergne, and Zia Zhengqi; members of the company also appear in Diane Paulus’s current revival of Pippin.)
Ultimately, how much you enjoy Queen of the Night is up to you; the more adventurous and open you are to just about anything, the more unpredictable and exciting the experience will be. Upon entering the transformed, glittering nightclub, you are encouraged to explore, and explore you should, checking out every nook and cranny that security allows; you’ll find strange artifacts of a time gone by, perhaps get picked to pay tribute to the queen, and maybe even help shave Pamina’s legs in a bathtub while a man reads from a book about the G-spot. During the show, you are likely to get stroked by various servant-slave butlers or the queen herself and might also be chosen to take part in some of the wild activities going on around the stage. And if you want to taste all of the food — the kitchen serves salmon Wellington, chicken, and lamb you slice yourself, with various accompaniments — you’ll have to get up from your table and trade portions with strangers.
Conceived by Randy Weiner, the producer of the Macbeth-inspired Sleep No More and cocreator (with Paulus, his wife) of the Midsummer Night’s Dream-based The Donkey Show, Queen of the Night is directed by Tony-nominated scenic designer Christine Jones (Spring Awakening, American Idiot), who is also currently helming the very different Theatre for One piece I’m Not the Stranger You Think I Am, a show of minimalist five-minute one-actor plays by famous playwrights for one audience member at a time. QOTN requires somewhat more intensive staging than that: Also deserving praise are lighting designer Austin R. Smith, fashion designer Thom Browne, set (and scent?!) designer Douglas Little, choreographer Lorin Latarro, interior designer Meg Sharpe, creative director Giovanna Battaglia, and executive chef Jason Kallert. As immersive theater goes, Queen of the Night has it all, mixing contemporary dance, acrobatics, fab costumes, magic, audience participation, and good food. There are three ticket levels, Gala ($195), Premium ($275), and Ultimate ($475), each of which comes with dinner but otherwise includes different amenities, seating, and access. If you allow yourself to get swept up in all the titillating pageantry, well, Queen of the Night just might be the best dinner theater ever.
UHF (Jay Levey, 1989)
136 Metropolitan Ave. between Berry St. & Wythe Ave.
Tuesday, June 2, $75, 7:15
“Aw, what’s wrong, Bobbo?” George Newman (“Weird Al” Yankovic) says to Bobbo the Clown (David Bowe) in UHF. “I bet I know! You’re hungry, aren’t you? Have I got just the thing for you!” While George offers Bobbo what he thinks are “the mouth-watering, lip-smacking taste” of Mrs. Hackenberger’s Butter Cookies but in actuality are Yappy’s Dog Treats, Brooklyn’s Nitehawk Cinema will be serving up something a little more palatable when it screens the 1989 cult classic on June 2 in its ongoing Film Feasts series. As you watch Weird Al spoof such flicks as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Conan the Barbarian, and Rambo and low-budget kids’ television shows with the help of Michael Richards, Victoria Jackson, Kevin McCarthy, Emo Philips, Dr. Demento, Gedde Watanabe, David Proval, Billy Barty, and Fran Drescher, you can enjoy a seven-course menu with special drinks that features “Waiters of the Lost Ark” (Big Edna burger and Twinkie Wiener sandwich), “Philo’s Chemistry Set” (Prickly Pear Limoncello shot), “Mr. Butterfingers’ Red Face” (finger sandwich), “What’s it gonna be, Weaver?” (Wheel of Fish ceviche), “Good Watermelon” (Avua Cachaça, fresh watermelon), “Cuz They’re Real Fishy” (Margherita pizza with white anchovies), and “Fifth Blood Part 1” (bahn mi). Channel 62 never tasted so good.
Josh and Benny Safdie’s Heaven Knows What is a harrowing tale about addiction and obsession, but it turns out that its back story is much more compelling than what shows up onscreen. Josh was researching a film about the Diamond District when he came upon Arielle Holmes, a nineteen-year-old temp assistant. He was determined to find out more about her and shortly discovered that she was a homeless junkie with a wild, unpredictable druggie boyfriend, Ilya. Josh and Benny, who had previous collaborated on such indie features as The Pleasure of Being Robbed and Daddy Longlegs and the documentary Lenny Cooke, commissioned Holmes to write her story, and she quickly delivered 150 pages that ultimately inspired the film, in which Holmes plays Harley, a young heroin addict living on the streets of New York City, spanging money (begging for spare change) for her next fix while in a combative relationship with Ilya (Caleb Landry Jones). Harley has done something to alienate Ilya, and she says she will kill herself to prove her love and devotion. He tells her to go ahead and do it, so she slits one of her wrists and is rushed to the hospital. That sets the stage for the rest of the lurid and sordid narrative, as Haley bounces between the cruel Ilya and her drug dealer, the far more easygoing and mellow Mike (real-life street legend Buddy Duress in his acting debut); she is also followed around by Skully (rapper Necro), who wants to save her from herself but is clearly in no position to do so.
Working with cowriter and coeditor Ronald Bronstein (Daddy Longlegs, Frownland) and cinematographer Sean Price Williams (Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo, Frownland), writer-director Josh and editor-director Benny immerse the viewer in this squalid subculture, as the characters, played by a mix of professional actors and real street kids, are trapped in their dirty little world, almost like a death sentence. Williams uses a tripod and long lenses that give the feel of a handheld camera while keeping a distance, which combine with Isao Tomita’s electronic versions of Debussy to create an operatic quality, but there’s no escaping a story that has been told before, and better. The Safdies were influenced by the HBO documentary Life of Crime, Andrzej Żuławski’s 1984 Possession, and Martin Wise’s 1984 Streetwise, but Heaven Knows What most closely resembles Jerry Schatzberg’s far superior 1971 classic, The Panic in Needle Park, even taking place in some of the same locations. In fact, Josh asked Schatzberg for his blessing in making Heaven Knows What, which doesn’t really cover any new ground in the genre. Holmes does an admirable job playing a version of herself, and a virtually unrecognizable Jones (X-Men: First Class, Queen and Country) throws himself into the part of Ilya with a frightening abandon, but it all ends up more like Heaven: So What. Heaven Knows What opens May 29 at the Landmark Sunshine; the Safdie brothers will participate in a Q&A with Cat Marnell following the 7:30 screening on Friday and a Q&A with Lena Dunham after the 7:30 show on Saturday, and Dunham will stick around to introduce Saturday’s 10:00 screening as well.
SUNSET ON THE MANHATTAN GRID
East side of Manhattan
Half Sun: Friday, May 29, 8:12 pm
Full Sun: Saturday, May 30, 8:12 pm
Full Sun: Sunday, July 12, 8:20 pm
Half Sun: Monday, July 13, 8:21 pm
One of our favorite events of the summer season, the first of two Manhattanhenges takes place this weekend, when the sun aligns with Manhattan’s off-center (by thirty degrees) grid to send spectacular bursts of sunlight streaming across the streets. It’s a real bummer when the sky is obscured by clouds and bad weather, ruining the effect, so hopefully that won’t be a problem, as it has been in recent years. Coined by master astrophysicist and Hayden Planetarium director Neil deGrasse Tyson in 2002, Manhattanhenge takes place twice a year; for 2015, those dates are May 29-30 and July 12-13, when the sun (half the disk one night, the full disk the other) will create “a radiant glow of light across Manhattan’s brick and steel canyons, simultaneously illuminating both the north and south sides of every cross street of the borough’s grid,” Tyson explains on the planetarium website. “A rare and beautiful sight. These two days happen to correspond with Memorial Day and Baseball’s All Star break. Future anthropologists might conclude that, via the Sun, the people who called themselves Americans worshiped War and Baseball.” Photographers will once again line up along the city’s wider thoroughfares on the east side, including Twenty-third, Thirty-fourth, Forty-second, and Fifty-seventh Sts., risking their physical safety against oncoming traffic as they try to capture that exact moment when the sun is half above the horizon, half below it. Wrongly called the Manhattan Solstice, the event “may just be a unique urban phenomenon in the world, if not the universe,” Tyson explains. It’s quite a sight; don’t miss it.
CELEBRATE ISRAEL PARADE AND OTHER EVENTS
57th to 74th St. up Fifth Ave.
Sunday, May 31, free, 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
On May 14, 1948, “The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel” proclaimed, “The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice, and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education, and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.” Israel’s existence has been fraught with controversy since the very beginning, but the nation perseveres, and on May 31 its sixty-seventh birthday will be honored with the annual Celebrate Israel Parade. This year’s theme is “Israel Imagines,” a tribute to the ideal of Israel upon its creation. As the official parade website explains, “The founders of Israel had a dream. They imagined a vibrant, independent and Jewish state that would not only be a haven for Jews from all over the world but also one that would incorporate the best characteristics of its citizens: brains and brawn, creativity, determination, fairness, and imagination — a state whose greatest natural resource is its people who could imagine that future — one that would benefit the whole world!” On Sunday, some thirty thousand marchers are expected to make their way from Fifty-Seventh to Seventy-Fourth St. up Fifth Ave. Among the performers will be Miri Ben-Ari, Golem, SOULFARM, Peri Smilow, SHI 360, the Israel Dance Institute, and Areyvut Mitzvah Clowns. Special guests include David Blu, Derrick Sharp, Steve Lacey, Becky Griffin, Robert Moses, Deputy Minister Danny Danon, Ambassadors Ido Aharoni and Ron Prosor, and members of the Israeli Knesset. The day begins with the one-mile Celebrate Israel Fun Run up Fifth Ave. and continues with the Celebrate Israel Festival on Pier 94 ($5-$15), with live performances by Rita and Rinat Gabay, a kosher marketplace, a Technology Pavilion, an “Israel 24/7” Instagram Photography Competition, the CreateLAB, the “Ahava” Art Installation, an Art4Israel community mural, and more; this year’s theme is “Jerusalem and Tel Aviv: Cities of Light.”
Finally, the unaffiliated Israel Day Concert in the Park is a free show in Rumsey Playfield (2:30 – 7:30) with Gad Elbaz, LIPA, Alex Clare, Tal Vaknin, Shloime Dachs, Mati Shriki, Avraham Rosenblum (accompanied by Ruby Harris, Izzy Kieffer, Heshy R, and Sam Ramras) Shloime Dachs Orchestra & Singers, Shlomi Aharoni, Broadway Youth Ensemble, Steve Lucas, Chaim Kiss, Israel Alliel, Born Kids, Aryeh Pollack, Jerry Markovitz singing Hatikva and the National Anthem, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Helen Freedman, Assemblyman David Weprin, and others. The special guest speakers are Governor Mike Huckabee, Ambassador John Bolton, and Science Minister Danny Danon.
SAN ANDREAS (Brad Peyton, 2015)
Opens Thursday, May 28
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,” Cassius says in Julius Caesar, and indeed, San Andreas is not the fault of its stars, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson and Carla Gugino, who try their best in this disaster of a disaster movie. Johnson is Ray Gaines, a Los Angeles Fire Department search-and-rescue chopper pilot going through a divorce with his wife, Emma (Gugino), who is shacking up with her new beau, ridiculously wealthy architecture mogul Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffudd). Ray and Emma clearly still care for each other, but they have been torn apart by the tragic loss of one of their daughters; they are both very close with their remaining daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario), who is about to head off for college in Northern California. But an earthquake in Nevada that destroys the Hoover Dam triggers further destruction in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and Ray is soon commandeering vehicle after vehicle to save his family. Meanwhile, Caltech seismologist Dr. Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti) is tracking the quakes, putting his new theory to work to predict where and when the next rift will happen, and how devastating it will be, desperate to get his message to the public via an investigative journalist (Archie Panjabi) before it’s too late.
Director Brad Peyton, who previously teamed up with producer Beau Flynn and Johnson on Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, borrows elements from such disaster flicks as Airport, Tidal Wave, Titanic, The Towering Inferno, The Day After Tomorrow, The Poseidon Adventure, and, of course, Earthquake, but not even Sensurround could have helped the absurd plot twists that threaten to set new records on the ludicrosity scale, at times evoking the Kentucky Fried Movie spoof That’s Armageddon. (The often mind-numbing screenplay is by Carlton Cuse, who cocreated Lost and is currently behind such other television series as The Strain and The Returned.) Destruction of all kinds runs rampant throughout San Andreas, but death is barely acknowledged, which does a disservice to some of the real-life tragedies the film evokes, including Hurricane Katrina, the Fukushima disaster, and 9/11. Perhaps we have become inured to such horrific events, as Peyton gets so caught up in special effects — buildings collapsing, fiery explosions, giant floods, in 3D! — that he discounts the human aspect, except for his protagonists (which also include Hugo Johnstone-Burt and Art Parkinson as British brothers helping Blake), who are apparently immune to most of what is going on around them. There are plenty of unintentional moments of laughter — although it is funny that Ray’s rival for Emma’s affections is named Riddick, the name of the character portrayed by Vin Diesel, Johnson’s fellow bald action star — but through it all, the eminently likable Johnson and Gugino are actually steadfast and strong, turning in solid performances among all the maddening mayhem. And Sia’s version of the Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreamin’” over the closing credits is pretty cool, too. But I still miss Sensurround.
LE AMICHE (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1955)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater, Francesca Beale Theater
144/165 West 65th St. between Eighth Ave. & Broadway
Friday, May 29, 4:15, and Sunday, May 31, 9:00
Festival runs May 22-31
Winner of the Silver Lion at the 1955 Venice Film Festival, Michelangelo Antonioni’s sublimely marvelous Le Amiche follows the life and loves of a group of oh-so-fabulous catty, chatty, and ultra-fashionable Italian women and the men they keep around for adornment. Returning to her native Turin after having lived in Rome for many years, Clelia (Eleonora Rossi Drago) discovers that the young woman in the hotel room next to hers, Rosetta (Madeleine Fischer), has attempted suicide, thrusting Clelia into the middle of a collection of self-centered girlfriends who make the shenanigans of George Cukor’s The Women look like child’s play. The leader of the vain, vapid vamps is Momina (Yvonne Furneaux), who carefully orchestrates situations to her liking, particularly when it comes to her husband and her various, ever-changing companions, primarily architect Cesare (Franco Fabrizi). As Rosetta falls for painter Lorenzo (Gabriele Ferzetti), who is married to ceramicist Nene (Valentina Cortese), Clelia considers a relationship with Cesare’s assistant, Carlo (Ettore Manni), and the flighty Mariella (Anna Maria Pancani) considers just about anyone. Based on the novella Tra Donne Sole (“Among Only Women”) by Cesare Pavese, Le Amiche is one of Antonioni’s best, and least well known, films, an intoxicating and thoroughly entertaining precursor to his early 1960s trilogy, L’Avventura, La Notte, and L’Eclisse. Skewering the not-very-discreet “charm” of the Italian bourgeoisie, Antonioni mixes razor-sharp dialogue with scenes of wonderful ennui, all shot in glorious black and white by Gianni Di Venanzo.
Recently restored in 35mm, Le Amiche is a newly rediscovered treasure from one of cinema’s most iconoclastic auteurs. It is screening on May 29 at 4:15 and May 31 at 9:00 in the Film Society of Lincoln Center series “Titanus: A Family Chronicle of Italian Cinema,” a ten-day, twenty-three-film retrospective honoring the Italian production company founded by Gustavo Lombardo in 1904 and later run by his son, Goffredo, and grandson, Guido, that remained active until 1964 (although it continues to occasionally release work). The festival displays the wide range of Titanus’s output, including Dario Argento’s The Bird with Crystal Plumage, Camillo Mastrocinque’s Little Girls and High Finance, Raffaello Matarazzo’s The White Angel, Elio Petri’s Numbered Days, Federico Fellini’s The Swindle, Giorgio Bianchi’s Cronaca Nera, and Dino Risi’s The Sign of Venus, but not Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard; the tremendous cost of filming Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s epochal novel played a major role in the company’s downward fortune.