'Queen of Hearts' review — an erotic adventure through wonderland

Read our review of Company XIV's Queen of Hearts, a burlesque variety show in Bushwick, Brooklyn, inspired by Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Kyle Turner
Kyle Turner

As Sondheim wrote in Gypsy, “You gotta get a gimmick if you want to get applause.” Burlesque thrives on taking a piece of iconography or clever observation and milking it for all it's worth. Queen of Hearts, created by baroque-burlesque king Austin McCormick for Company XIV, takes on Lewis Carroll’s Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The show valiantly and entertainingly steps up to the task of reenvisioning Alice’s trip down the rabbit hole into a lightly erotic journey toward something like understanding her own desires.

Company XIV pulls out all the stops while also retaining a bit of whimsy about the evening. As beautiful as Zane Pihlström's costumes and scenic design are, they never immerse the audience such that we forget this is a performance — and they're not trying to. Queen of Hearts opens with various courtiers holding large placquards as title cards, a nice throwback to the theatre of the past (from 18th Century France to vaudeville), and you can see all the performers setting up one scenario to the next.

For the most part, these performers play their gimmick with gusto: the Cheshire Cat (Duana Taste) flashing a wicked smile between her sparkle-encrusted cat ears and ballet shoes, a merman twirling around on an anchor in midair, the smoke-blowing caterpillar (Syrena) transforming into a belly-dancing wonder. The thin thread that connects them all to Alice’s (Lexxe) journey is still strong enough to keep one’s attention because of the spectacle on display. The lights, the sound, the acts, and the atmosphere all combine to grand effect.

Queen of Hearts succeeds because it crafts familiar imagery into this unexpected, theatrical performance. Part of the fun is seeing how recognizable elements and characters will get transformed into something bawdier, sexier, and more spectacular. The looking glass Alice steps through is beaming bright.

Queen of Hearts summary

Lady Alice (Lexxe) is confined by the expectations of womanhood, the disembodied voice of her mother telling her exactly how a lady should act (don’t sing more than two songs consecutively, don’t talk about anything more than chit-chat) while her courtiers dress and undress her and essentially act as her arms and legs.

But when she yearns for freedom one night before bed, her dreams send her down the rabbit hole. As she tumbles through the dreamscape, Alice inches closer to self-actualization through pleasure. She encounters the rogue gallery of characters from Lewis Carroll’s story, from the Mad Hatter (here with sparkly nipples) to the Cheshire Cat (who dances en point), to the Queen of Hearts, her voice as imposing as her rule over Alice’s dreams.

What to expect at Queen of Hearts

Company XIV has done an impressive job making the whole experience — and it certainly is one — of Queen of Hearts immersive. When the audience walks into the venue, the air is thick with the scent of sugar and fog, pink lights bathing everything in sight. The furniture is black leather, the ushers are in black long-tailed jackets with matching black breeches and white wigs, and chandeliers hang from the ceiling.

As Queen of Hearts is a burlesque show, it is an evening intended for adults. Although there’s no explicit sex going on, there’s plenty of suggestion and bejeweled tassels and pasties to go around. And bring earplugs; the music is loud!

What audiences are saying about Queen of Hearts

As of publication, Queen of Hearts has an 89% approval rating on Show-Score, based on 232 reviews from audience members.

  • X user DateRamona called the show “a must see” and said it was an “incredible welcome to the city!”
  • @TrChSpHa on X called Queen of Hearts “a delight.”
  • Show-Score user Loving Life said the show is great if “you want to see beautiful dancers, singers, and acrobats give a unique rendition of Alice in Wonderland.”

Read more audience reviews of Queen of Hearts on Show-Score.

Who should see Queen of Hearts

  • Those with an appreciation for acrobatics — done in what amounts to a warehouse in Brooklyn — will enjoy Queen of Hearts. The aerial tricks are pretty impressive given the space that the performers do them in.
  • Queen of Hearts is for lovers of kitsch. While everyone in the cast has their mind on multiple things (they are in charge of various costume and scene setups in addition to their own performances), there’s a pleasant roughness to the proceedings. Nothing is ever too polished.
  • Anyone who would ever want to watch a burlesque version of Alice in Wonderland should see Queen of Hearts. Part of the fun of the evening is seeing just exactly how they’ll transform a character or encounter from Alice’s adventures into a choreographed number with plenty of skin.

Learn more about Queen of Hearts

With dazzling lights, beautiful costumes, and a sense of humor, Queen of Hearts is an entertaining evening of light erotic play through the looking glass.

Learn more and get tickets to Queen of Hearts on New York Theatre Guide. Queen of Hearts is at Théâtre XIV through August 25.

Photo credit: The cast of Queen of Hearts by Company XIV. (Photo by Mark Shelby Perry)

Originally published on

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