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"At the end of the night, you're going to feel as alive as I feel right now." The short-haired stranger had just finished a series of inverted twists and extensions, all while balanced atop thin metal rods protruding from a wooden table. He led me into a dark corner and placed my hand on his chest. No surprise, his heart was pounding fast. In any other context, I would have been extremely creeped out. But, this was Queen of the Night, where secret spaces, quiet whispers, and thrilling acrobatics are to be expected.
Below a grand marble staircase on 46th Street is the recently reopened Diamond Horseshoe, a 6,000-square-foot venue transformed by master set designer Douglas Little into a decadently decorated debutante ball. Six nights a week, ticket holders are invited to "dig into the deepest reaches of your armoires for...your finest jewels, your great aunt's vintage gown, your swankest of tuxedos" to celebrate the sexual awakening of the Queen's daughter, young Pamina.
If Queen of the Night and Pamina sound familiar, it's because this theatrical experience is loosely based on Mozart's The Magic Flute. But, the show's overarching plot is far from the driving force of the evening. Instead, it's the combination of short-yet-truly special moments that define QOTN in a unique way for each attendee.
Almost immediately upon arrival, guests are whisked away — separated from their companions completely — by butlers dressed in androgynous black-and-white uniforms designed by none other than Thom Browne. Famous for his expertly crafted collections and theatrical Fashion Week shows featuring nuns and deranged nurses alike, Browne was the ideal choice to bring the show's sartorial vision to life.
The intense (yet, ultimately innocent) gazes, hand-holding, and trips into hidden chambers are not for showgoers preferring to maintain the fourth wall. The immersive interactions are as much a part of the experience as the performance itself. Magic tricks, aerial acrobatics, and men jumping through hoops will dazzle you. Love stories, Pamina's deflowering, and a whip crack (or five) keep the show energetic and quick. And, the dinner? A complete experience crafted by director of food performance, Jennifer Rubell, and executive chef, Jason Kallert, featuring lobsters in cages, entire roasted pigs, and short ribs with marrow bones. It is unforgettable. Even the meal stresses the importance of connecting. Though each table receives only one entrée, guests are encouraged to barter with and steal from other groups to create the perfect plate. Maybe even share a bite with a cast member, should they manage to persuade you.
Finally, the plates are gone, the tricks have halted, and viewers are welcomed to the floor for an uplifting slow dance. That moment, when everything seems so calm, is when everything that's happened over the last three hours rushes to you. And, you wish you could start the night all over again.
Click through for a peek into the show. Queen of the Night is open through Sunday, April 6, at the Diamond Horseshoe at the Paramount Hotel, 235 West 46th Street (between Broadway and 8th Avenue), 212-706-7344.