Something bizarre began happening in New York in the spring of 2011. In the late-night hours, figures in white masks began to appear throughout Chelsea. Word spread like wildfire: You absolutely have to see Sleep No More. Broadway is synonymous with first-rate, classic theater – but a new, immersive theater experience is taking a bite out of the Big Apple.
Sleep No More
When you visit the McKittrick, a fictional abandoned hotel built in a block of (non-fictional) abandoned West Chelsea warehouses, the magic is immediately evident. You’re not as much a viewer as a guest, stumbling into an alternate universe.
You begin your adventure in the Manderley Bar, where a glass of Champagne or cocktail is highly recommended to set the mood. Then you get your white mask and instructions to keep it on throughout the experience; after you’re led into the hotel, you’re on your own. You have three hours to explore the multiple floors of the McKittirck, where you’ll wander like a ghost as actors play out their scenes — Sleep No More is based on Macbeth, with the macabre vibe of a Hitchcock film. But there’s no dialogue.
McKittrick Hotel is a labyrinth, so expect to spend your first moments getting your bearings, which you will then lose over and over. And give up on staying with your companions, because you’re guaranteed to quickly lose each other. But you won’t mind. Alone, you can give yourself over to the madness and make your way through the bedrooms, graveyards, hospitals, and more. You peek around corners and into each room, happening upon actors as they play out their roles in a creepy, film noir setting. Most will pay you no mind, but follow and observe. The show features quite a bit of murderous bloodshed (this is Shakespeare, after all) so those with delicate sensibilities might want to check out Jersey Boys instead.
By the time you exit and rejoin your companions, each person will have had a completely different experience, so comparing notes is part of the fun – as well as the reason many guests return again and again. McKittrick Hotel also has a standalone cocktail lounge, Gallow Green, and restaurant, The Heath, so it’s easy to make a night of it.
Queen of the Night
Following the sensational success of Sleep No More, one of the producers, Randy Weiner, decided to launch a new experience for New Yorkers and visitors who now have a taste for immersive theater. Queen of the Night, set in the beautifully restored Diamond Horseshoe theater at the Paramount Hotel, is interactive dinner theater loosely based on Mozart’s The Magic Flute. The main event: a dark debutante ball for the Queen’s daughter, Pamina.
Arrive early if you want plenty of time to explore (hint: you do). Unlike the haunted, spooky experience of Sleep No More, Queen of the Night is boisterous and social, with glittering scenes and over-the-top theatrics. You’ll want to bring friends to this one — the more, the merrier.
Pick up a cocktail and make your way through narrow rooms filled with oddities, as well as actors who might interact with you. Soon you’ll be ushered to your table, and the show will truly begin. Queen of the Night is Cirque du Soleil meets Cabaret – acrobatic and bawdy, with an interactive twist. Don’t be surprised if you end up on stage.
And the evening isn’t just entertaining; it’s positively gluttonous. Your entrance fee includes food and drink. There is one catch, however: Each table receives a slew of decadent food, including extravagant dishes like whole roasted pig and lobster, but if you want to try something that isn’t on your table, you must barter with the tables that got it. Consider this a chance to make friends with some fellow appreciators of the absurd. Finish the evening off with some good old-fashioned dancing, sweetened by dancers hand-feeding you delicious desserts.
Broadway may be New York’s calling card, but it’s these immersive experiences that you’ll remember for a lifetime.