New York’s immersive theater scene has outdone themselves yet again. I was offered a ticket to The Queen of the Night last week and immediately jumped. Think Nutcracker Rouge meets The Great Comet of 1812 minus the literary source and Christmas. That’s what The Queen of the Night is. Or in other words: it’s a super erotica circus with a few dance breaks.

The entire night lasts about 3 hours. There’s about an hour of pre-show where you’re encouraged to go just walk around the space and explore, and if you’re lucky a cast member will pull you away and show you something neat that you hadn’t yet discovered. Some people were whisked away to meet the Queen who was standing on the stage for most of the pre-show. 

Once the show begins, all of the chairs that are messily piled onstage are ripped down and put around the tables that are scattered around the stage. I had been told to sit at a certain table by a cast member, so like an obedient audience member, I listened. 

After the story is introduced and there’s some impressive stuff onstage, they bring out huge platters of food that includes lobster, a rack of ribs, a full roast pig, potatoes gratin, kale salad, bone marrow, and of course, wine. Oh, and two vegetarian options which were roasted cauliflower and some mushroom dish that I didn’t try. We were served the rack of ribs at first but then encouraged to go to other tables to try what they had. Such a cool idea! Definitely a way to make the audience socialize.

After eating and another section of the show is performed, the cast rolls out huge white containers and tells us to throw out plates and everything on the table in them. That’s one way for a quick clean up!

Just so you know: You will get felt up, kissed, fed, and used (in the show).  I was singled out to be the girl who refuses the crazy character’s proposal for a happy ending with him (as in marriage, not an orgasm). I won’t lie – I loved the moment that we had in the spotlight. And then we danced again at the end of the show. I’m glad i listened to that one cast member on where to sit!

After the two main couples of the night get together and all is well, everyone dances (including the audience) and then cast members are lined up in various spots around the nightclub with lots of spoons and the most decadent chocolate cake you’ve ever tasted. As evident in the above photo, they feed it to you.

This is definitely more fun than Sleep No More, though the story is less clear than The Great Comet of 1812, and it’s definitely more immersive (and invasive!) than Here Lies Love (and twice as long). This probably ties with Here Lies Love – I love the historical aspects and music of Here Lies Love but who doesn’t love a free meal with their erotic circus acts? 

This is a definite New York experience to be had if you can deal with being touched by more strangers in one night than ever before. Tickets are not cheap but they’re definitely worth the price.

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A few weeks back I saw Here Lies Love at The Public Theatre downtown. I’d missed it’s first production but I was thrilled it was back again and I was going to be able to see it. I had listened to the cast recording one day at work a few weeks early but I still had no idea what it was about. I didn’t know who Imelda Marcos was, or even that she was a real person (Thanks, Global History, for nothing!).

I loved Sleep No More, and countless other immersive shows, but this was by far the most fun I’ve ever had a one. I got onstage and danced. I moved around with the ever-rotating set. I loved it. About 2/3 of the way through, I thought, “Um, okay, I think this is a true story,” and yes, it is. I’m an idiot sometimes.

The music is amazing. Fatboy Slim and David Byrne have outdone themselves. It is a fantastic, memorable score. Ruthie Ann Miles, Jose Llana, and Conrad Ricamora were equally brilliant in their lead roles (Imelda, Marcos, and Aquino). I especially enjoyed the DJ, who was played that night by Vincent Rodriguez III. He definitely raised the energy in the room before the performance so that we were all amped up by the time it began.

If there is one show – experience – you venture downtown for this season, it’s Here Lies Love. It’s a history lesson and theatrical experience rolled into one. 

(Disclosure: The company I work for works on Here Lies Love, but opinions are all my own.)

My Top Ten Moments of Theatre in 2011

It’s always hard to pick just five moments of New York theatre a to wrap up a year. But it’s especially difficult when you’ve seen and processed the most recent season so I thought I’d do a Top 10 list.

1. First on this list is obviously Sleep No More, presented by Punchdrunk. I’m glad I got in on this before people caught on to what was going on down in Chelsea. If you’ve gone to see Sleep No More, you know what it’s like and if you haven’t seen it, there’s really no way to explain it without sounding like a crazy person about why it was such an amazing experience. Save up your money and go buy yourself a ticket for 2012.

2. The next thing that instantly came to mind was Once, currently showing at the New York Theatre Workshop. Based on the indie movie of the same name, it’s a touching story of how one girl helps a musician achieve his dreams (and they kinda-sorta fall in love too). This was such a unique piece of theatre because it starts an hour before “curtain” time. The cast, who doubles as the band, is playing, singing, and dancing onstage for an hour before the actually story starts (and don’t worry, you’ll know when the show starts). They announced their transfer to Broadway hours before they opened off-Broadway, which is pretty amazing. It’s Spring Awakening for adults and it’s theme is to not live your life without pursuing your dreams – which is a pretty important one, if you ask me.

3. Next up comes The Hallway Trilogy presented by the Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre and written by my favorite, Adam Rapp, which I just realized I never actually wrote about and that’s probably because there was no way to translate the experience into words. This was a hundred year history of this one hallway from the time of Eugene O’Neil to a time 50 years in the future when New York was disease free and now financially strapped individuals could make money being injected with ‘old fashioned’ diseases in a museum for the rich to come and witness.

4. I still can’t believe that American Idiot closed only this year; it all seems like so much longer ago. Whenever I think back to one of the most ridiculously energetic performances I saw, I immediately think back to February 27th, 2011 – the night John Gallagher Jr., Michael Esper, and Billie Joe Armstrong left the show. It felt like every single person in that theatre was there for those three guys and you could hear the love pouring out from them. It was just a ridiculous and amazing night, one that I will not soon forget.

5. An incredible moment that makes this list happened only last week. A benefit for Royal Family Productions, Anthony Rapp performed a reading of his brother Adam Rapp’s script Nocturne at Symphony Space, a few blocks from where I live on the Upper West Side in a night titled “Rapp Reads Rapp.” Nocturne was one of the few plays of Rapp’s that I had no familiarity with but oh boy is it amazing, and Anthony did an incredible job with it. By the end he was in tears.

6. I thought Thomas Sadowski was pretty good in 2009’s reasons to be pretty but he left me speechless in this season’s Broadway transfer of Other Desert Cities. His character was so complicated and went through so many emotions that I was absolutely exhausted and heart broken watching him from the front row. 

7. When you try to think of the most fantastic actress discovered out-of-the-blue in the last five years, you’d be hard pressed to think of someone more talented of Nina Arianda and her performance in Venus in Fur. Her performance is a tour-de-force and isn’t to be missed. I’m not sure how to use words to describe it actually. It has to be seen and not described. She crashes through the door ten minutes into the script and the whirlwind that she creates onstage never stops.

8. When I think of Norbert Leo Butz, I will always think of him as my first Roger in Rent in 1998. The next moment I’ll think of is his performance in this year’s Catch Me If You Can. Catch Me was a [mostly] bore of a show that had all the makings of what should’ve been a great musical, but the only reason I saw it twice was to watch Mr. Butz. He danced and moved in ways that I didn’t think he could during the song “Breaking All the Rules.” Watching him on the Tony’s, and then win his second Tony, it was a great thing.

9. I missed Boeing Boeing a few years ago and after seeing Mark Rylance in both La Bete and Jerusalem this year, that will forever be one of my great theatre-related regrets. I will still stand my ground that Mark Rylance was even better in La Bete than in Jerusalem, but for the purposes of doing a review of the year of 2011, I’ll talk about his performance in Jerusalem.  Playing a modern day pied piper in England, you loved him, you felt bad for him, you loved listening to his rambling. Like I said back in April, Rylance might be one of the great actors of our day.

10. I’ve been a fan of Jan Maxwell since I worked at Chitty Chitty, Bang Bang in 2005 and I’ve seen almost everything she’s done since. She’s never won a Tony but this just might be her year with her mouth-dropping turn in this season’s revival of Follies. She brings down the house in Act 2 like I’ve never seen her do. I never knew she could dance like she does, and she’s absolutely heartbreaking. Follies isn’t my cup of tea when it comes to musical theatre, but I’d see it again to watch her onstage.   

So, I think that’s it. Honorable mentions go to War Horse (breathtaking, just absolutely mind-blowing), The Normal Heart (after the 2010 reading, this production was magnificent), The Book of Mormon (I’m glad I saw this in previews), How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (Mr. Radcliffe blew me away with his moves, and after wanting to see this show revived again for so many years, this is a great production), and The Amoralists (a fantastic theatre company that produces really unique theatrical experiences such as this one and this one). 

I won’t deny the fact that there was a ton of crap produced on and off-Broadway this year, but it’d be silly to neglect to acknowledge the amazing moments that I was fortunate enough to see too. We’ll see what 2012 holds.

photo taken in April 2011

Sleep No More, presented by Punchdrunk, will be worth every single sent of your non-discounted (because there are no discounts!) $75 ticket.  Originally produced in Boston, this theatrical even has been gaining buzz ever since performances started.  I’d had two friends rave about it before I broke down and bought a ticket to go wit Lily, one of my friends from CTI.  (Surprisingly it wasn’t hard at all to convince a theatre person to spend $75 on this.)  

In a run down old building in far west Chelsea (your walk there from the subway will add to your uneasiness for the show), this incredible production team has completely decked out over 100 rooms in completely period props, furniture, and lighting.  The detailing is amazing alone.  Patrons do take a lot of time to examine it extremely closely – which, in a world where you’re told not to touch anything, is a nice change of pace.  After check-in, you’re given a playing card which determines what group you’re in and the you’re led into the bar.  The talented actors playing the hotel bell hops, bartenders, and hostesses never break character.  When your group is called you meet and are escorted onto a large freight lift.  Here you are given your mask (so you can’t tell who anyone is, including your friends) and told the rules: no pictures, no cell phones, no talking (among other things).  Then at floor five he begins to let a few people out before closing the door: “This is something to be experienced alone,” the bell hop says as the door closes and he does the same thing on the third and fourth floors.  Luckily, I was let out on the 2nd floor with Lily.  

The story that you’re supposed to see is loosely Macbeth (one of my absolute favorite tragedies by Shakespeare).  I had been told by friends who had experienced it previously that you should follow the actors so you’ll see EVERY thing.  So as soon as we saw a man in a tuxedo we went after him.  Sometimes you have run, in dim lighting, after the actors and down stairs as well.  We ran up and down countless flights of stairs but I will venture to say that the adrenaline and anticipation of “what’s going to happen next?” kept us going.  We saw a dinner scene, an elaborate dance, the scene in which Lady Macbeth is vigorously washing blood – that isn’t really there – off herself in a bathtub (and yes, she was naked), there’s an orgy scene, and a couple of fight/conflict scenes that are beautiful modern dance sets.  

There were tons of other rooms too but I won’t give too much away.  Lily and I lost each other after going to chase one of the actors after the dance, and I completely freaked out.  I was alone in a dark room with barely anyone else around.  I soon found another group, and about half an hour later, found Lily, and everything was fine.  The next time we lost each other, I didn’t freak out.  I knew that we’d eventually find each other again.  

After an hour or an hour and a half, you’ll come across the same scene that you’ve witnessed once before and you’ll want to go find a different room (I did) but you should definitely stay and once the scene is over, follow a different character out of the room than the one that you followed the first time.  You’ll see a completely different story and side of things.

We left around 10pm (after having started around 7:20pm) and we were completely exhausted (not to mention covered in dust, and probably a layer of dirt).  

Sleep No More was worth every penny.  It’s the most unique theatre experience you’ll have in New York right now, and maybe even possibly the country.  Where else will you be accosted by insanely talented actors and made part of the story (kind of)?  These are my three pieces of advice should you choose to go:

  1. Wear sneakers.
  2. Check your bag(s) at the door.
  3. Follow the actors.

You may also want to check out some reviews or articles about it, like this one, if you’re still unsure of what it is.  Maybe you even want to read, or watch, Macbeth before going too.  Enjoy!

(photo via)