‘Queen of the Night’ producer Randy Weiner on making immersive theater
Every night, at the new immersive theater show “Queen of the Night,” an audience member takes a bath with Pamina, the daughter of the Queen.“An audience member goes back there [to Pamina’s chamber] and takes a bath,” explains producer Randy Weiner. “Pamina’s there just to do it for that one person, and that’s awesome. The whole goal of this is to open people up to new experiences. The things people do during the show are amazing.”
Weiner produced “Sleep No More,” the hit show that put immersive theater on the map in New York, and he co-founded The Box, a Lower East Side nightclub that is infamous for its edgy nightly cabaret show. Now, he’s bringing his magic to the basement of the Paramount Hotel with a show loosely based on “The Magic Flute.” Audience members are invited guests at Pamina’s lavish but dark debutante ball.
Weiner’s strategy when conceptualizing “Queen of the Night” was to get a top-notch team first and hammer out the details later. “We decided we were going to get the absolute best in the world and make this a jewel in New York City and somehow convince all of these people to work together,” says Weiner. “We had this room of amazingly creative people, and I knew it was going to be epic.” The team includes all-stars from the art and design community, like fashion designer Thom Browne; set and scent designer Douglas Little, who designs windows at Bergdorf Goodman; Tony Award-winning set designer Christine Jones; W Magazine stylist Giovanna Battaglia; and food artist Jennifer Rubell.
Weiner says he knew once he had the right team together, he just needed a good idea to create something spectacular. “I got inspired to choose something as a jumping-off point from an opera canon, and I was interested in ‘The Magic Flute’ because it has a secret society and we were in a basement, so it felt like we were entering a different world,” says Weiner.
“A different world” is an apt description for the Diamond Horseshoe. The entrance and staircase leading down to the Diamond Horseshoe is in total disarray, with debris and fallen ropes and chandeliers dotting the crumbling staircase. But the unglamorous descent makes it all the more jaw-dropping when the door opens to the stunning set that combines the dark, overt sexuality of “Eyes Wide Shut” with the fantastical sensory overload of “Alice in Wonderland.”
The decrepit staircase is a nod to the Diamond Horseshoe’s dormancy for the past 60 years. Just a year ago, the Diamond Horseshoe was nothing. The nightclub in the basement of the Paramount had its heyday in the 1940s and then was left to decay. “For 15 years, it was the hottest spot in New York — and then 60 years ago it stopped and basically the place has been abandoned since then,” says Weiner.
Weiner jumped at the chance to take over the space when Aby Rosen, owner of the Paramount Hotel, decided to do something with the basement. “We got him excited because we said we wanted to bring back dinner theater to New York, where it’s not dinner theater – where it feels like a fully integrated experience for the senses,” explains Weiner.
As at “Sleep No More,” audience members are encouraged to explore the set of “Queen of the Night” before they sit to dinner and a show. The gorgeous basement is filled with secret chambers and interactive experiences that vary for each guest – like a private dance from the Queen herself. Even dinner is an interactive performance with dancers serving attendees birdcages of lobster or whole suckling pigs. The show features spectacular acrobatics and dance performances from Katherine Crockett, principal dancer at the Martha Graham Dance Company, and members of the world-class Montreal-based circus troupe, Les 7 Doigts de la Main.
Weiner says the performers are just as enthralled by the one-on-one interactions as the audience members are. “Zhengqi [Xin] does all this stuff with people in private rooms, and it’s an incredible experience for him because he’s usually just the guy who jumps through hoops,” says Weiner. “Who would have a circus performer doing a soliloquy? They love it.”
Weiner says teamwork has been key to the show’s success. “Everyone checked everything at the door and our circus performers are carrying food – enormous suckling pigs – now,” he says. “We all go back to our lives after this. You’re going back to the circus and you’re going back to Bergdorf Goodman, so we said let’s start from scratch and do the coolest thing we can do.”