“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.