Pigs, lobsters, acrobats: An extravaganza
"Are you sure you don't want to stay for the cake?," asked one of the countless comely young men and women devoted to coddling and literally stroking the paying guests at "Queen of the Night," an elaborate three-hour bacchanal of theme-park decadence and erotic dinner-theater circus.
It didn't occur to me until I had climbed the labyrinth of marble stairs from the bowels of the Paramount Hotel on West 46th Street that, just maybe, I had left before the show was over and that, perhaps, I had missed more than chocolate cake.
After all, audience members had been slow dancing when I left -- a sure signal at weddings that the revels are ending. And the tables had already been cleared of dishes that were smeared with grisly remains of whole roasted piglets and lobsters.
Besides, hard as I tried to pick up any thread of the story, pickings were slim. Even the contortionists had unwound in the lavishly rehabilitated theater, the Diamond Horseshoe supper club, where, in the '40s, Billy Rose used to produce the follies.
So, whew, except for dessert, I had missed nothing. But the fact that I didn't know for sure is just one limitation in this concept-stuffed, ultimately empty but quite beautiful spectacle.
Before I get accused of being a bad sport, let me tell you about "Queen of the Night," the latest -- and possibly the most pretentious, preposterous and guiltiest pleasure -- in the city's so-called immersive environmental experiences.
Randy Weiner, producer of the ongoing "Sleep No More" (Macbeth in a multiroom faux-hotel) and the avant-garde club, The Box, is one of the creators of what has been described as a "dark debutante ball." Despite the title and maybe four notes from the "Queen of the Night" aria from Mozart's "Magic Flute," the music -- what sounds like recorded disco -- has nothing to do with the opera. And despite the presence of Katherine Crockett, a former Martha Graham dancer, as the mysterious centerpiece Queen in a fishtail gown and half-moon mask, the banal choreography has even less to do with good dancing.
Does any of this matter? Perhaps not to people on a night out, instructed to "dress to please the Queen" in cocktail or gala attire. Who can say what audiences expect when paying -- wait for it -- weekend prices of $195 for a "gala" ticket (sit-down pig and lobster dinner with free-flowing wine, one cocktail and no assigned seats). Or $325 for a "premium" ticket (all that, plus an escort to reserved seats, unlimited drinks at the bar and a "talisman pendant," ask not why, of a delicate metal hand). Or $525 for an "ultimate" ticket (a trip to the kitchen with the maitre d', choice of premium wine and "personalized table service" at "VIP seats").
Although "Queen of the Night" opened on New Year's Eve, it did not officially open to the press (with "premium" tickets) until late January.
What we found was a bit of the creepy, self-conscious elegance from Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut" mixed with the patronizing chumminess of a Chippendale's party. The servers -- dressed in black and white, with strange Bermuda shorts, backless halter tops and garter socks -- pretend to find us utterly irresistible.
Sultry men and women were always petting our shoulders. A man with lots of eyeliner asked my companion and me which of us has a "higher tolerance for pain." Bullwhips cracked over lovely women in filmy chiffon. Someone walked a customer off with a rope around his waist. (My friend whispered to me, "if the revolution comes now, we'll be beheaded.")
According to the press agent, someone from the audience was taken into an "elaborate white room" and given a milk bath. This apparently happens nightly. I have no idea.
And in contrast to all this mock sensuality, the show also includes a magician (apparently Sarastro from "Magic Flute," but you wouldn't know it), jugglers, acrobats, rope hangers. If the mildly impressive circus performers seem related to the ones in "Pippin," directed by Weiner's wife Diane Paulus, know they come from the same company.
Then there is the extravagantly bounteous food, which, not incidentally, also offers a comforting buffet of roasted cauliflower and mushroom risotto. This is a major help, since I -- virtually a lifelong vegetarian -- had begun to refer to this as the "dead pig show."
Just maybe, in response, I received an official statement from Jennifer Rubell, called, no kidding, director of food performance. She explains that the whole pigs and entire lobsters force the audience "to confront the carnality inherent in what they do every day, which is, morally, a good thing." She continues, "We honor these pigs by venerating them in the performance . . . Every person in the room acknowledges that we have killed something for our pleasure and appetites . . . A whole animal creates a mindfulness about what we are eating that seeps into our fundamental approach to food."
For the price of admission, we also get a lesson.