EXCLUSIVE FULL INTERVIEW
Queen of the Night at the Paramount Hotel’s Diamond Horseshoe is New York City’s sexiest dinner party. It is dinner theater reimagined for discerning, contemporary audiences. The experience is an inhibition-busting celebration of sensuality and excess where the guests join performers in an over-the-top feast for the senses. NYCM was honored to speak with creator Randy Weiner recently about his one-of-a-kind production…
NYCM: How did “Queen of the Night” come to be? What’s the story behind its production?
RW: My brain started firing the moment Aby Rosen showed me the venue. The Diamond Horseshoe had been empty since the ‘60s. It felt like entering the abandoned crypt of some secret society. With that image as a jumping off point, and Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” as a touchstone, we began assembling a team to reanimate this extravagant jewel.
Christine Jones (Tony Award-winning designer of American Idiot) brought unparalleled intimacy to her direction of the show; style superstar Giovanna Battaglia imbued the Diamond Horseshoe with worldly sophistication as Creative Director; and Simon Hammerstein, Murtaza Akbar, and Javier Vivas, my partners at The Box, gave Queen our signature nightlife twist. It is a dream team!
NYCM: How is “Queen of the Night” different from other theater attractions? What is unique about it?
RW: Calling Queen of the Night “theater” is like calling Burning Man an “artsy camp-out”. Yes, we have a world-class cast of performing artists, but Queen is more than the sum of its parts. The entire evening is heightened beyond all reason—the carnal displays of food, the intimate one-on-one moments with the performers, the outrageously luxe environment. It’s a singular, integrated, maximalist event. At what other Broadway theater can you be escorted to a private room to be flogged by a beautiful woman wearing a Thom Browne couture gown and then return to your seat to devour a birdcage full of lobster?
NYCM: We understand this is one of the few “immersive” theater attractions in the city. How exactly can the audience get involved?
RW: The audience can get involved any way they want! With Queen, we’ve really taken a sledgehammer to the “fourth wall,” totally democratizing the audience experience. Maybe you’re a voyeur, or you want to cling to your partner, or you want to dive in headfirst. Our performers engage you on your level and then massage you up to theirs. Even the most adventurous will find themselves testing their limits, physically and emotionally.
NYCM: The set design and costumes are stunning! Can you share a bit with us on how it was conceptualized?
RW: We always saw the Diamond Horseshoe as a living art installation. Douglas Little isn’t your typical scenic designer; he comes from the world of lavish window displays at places like Bergdorf Goodman. Mining mythology and The Magic Flute for thematic imagery, he focused on the extraordinary visual flourishes that make our venue pop: the glowing, steaming mad distillery from which we create our cocktails; the outsized coronas of flex neon that explode with light; the theme of hands, giant and small, that exists throughout the venue from the door handles to the giant hands that hold the curtains on our proscenium stage.
Given that the entire venue is our stage, with the audience immersed right in the middle of it, Douglas’s attention to detail is really what makes the experience of the design extraordinary. For example, on one small wall, he had a team of five extremely talented artisans spend three weeks pasting 15,000 individual butterfly wings into breath-takingly intricate and beautiful mandalas.
Menswear legend Thom Browne used the language of ritual to guide his costume design. His goal was to make the Queen performers feel like the acolytes of a mysterious and carnal secret society. His costumes all mix references to priests and sex-industry workers, but again as with every aspect of Queen, all through a vocabulary of glorious extravagance.
NYCM: What is the most memorable aspect of the show?
RW: Queen of the Night gives each guest a personalized experience, so everyone gets something special. Maybe you’re drawn to the spectacular circus performance onstage, created by the incomparable Shana Carroll and 7 Doigts De La Main; maybe your mind is blown by the decadent meal, created by the incredible artist Jennifer Rubell and Chef Jason Kallert; maybe it’s the private experience you have with a butler in a bathtub; maybe it’s another guest you meet at your table. We are throwing so many delicious opportunities at you; we hope by the end of the night that we’ve blown past your rational mind into a place of pure sensory ecstasy. My favorite thing someone ever said to me about the show was just the other day. A woman said it’s like that Maya Angelou quote—“people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
NYCM: What has the public reaction to “Queen of the Night” been like?
RW: It’s been beyond anything we could ever have imagined. We originally put Queen on sale for 6 weeks. We weren’t sure who would come. Dinner theater had such bad connotations. It usually meant the worst show and the worst food. But we thought what if we turn that on its head. What if we did the best food and the best show — mixing circus, one-on-ones, characters, and story. We wondered what if our dinner theater featured the best designers from all walks of New York culture — theater, opera, fashion, the art world, and food world. The word of mouth has been so great that six weeks has turned into six months. And audience demand is only increasing. In a way it’s not surprising, people love great food, they love a great show. Put them together, and it’s not surprising that people are coming back and bringing their friends.
NYCM: How has 2014 been an exciting year for your show?
RW: We launched our first preview on New Years Eve, and rang in 2014 with a who’s who of New York culture! Over the past few months we’ve become a destination for guests from all over the world, and we’re just getting rolling.
NYCM: What type of audience will most enjoy “Queen of the Night”?
RW: We’ve seen everyone come through these doors— adventurous couples, Broadway icons, Movie stars, celebrity chefs, super models, fashionistas, girls-night-out parties, tourists including fabulous guests from the beautiful Paramount Hotel upstairs, celebutantes, businessmen with their clients, foodies, and theater lovers.
NYCM: Are there any other details you’d like to share with our readers?
RW: Queen of the Night delights in its opulence, but it’s the commitment of our audience that takes the experience to the next level. Night after night, per The Queen’s decree, our guests dig into the deepest reaches of their closets and pull out those clothes they never thought they’d have a chance to wear. Our ballroom spins with tuxedos, ball gowns, and haute couture— The Queen may be on stage, but the whole crowd feels like royalty.