By Amanda Marrazzo Chicago Tribune
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Before Queen Dona Maria Isabella, the lead role in the dinner theater's 35-year history has always gone to a man, the king.
There is a new ruler in town, and she is not backing down.
For the first time in more than three decades, a queen is in charge of Schaumburg's castle.
"I love it, it's awesome," said 11-year-old Jacob Serrano, wearing his crown from the crowd, waving his yellow flag and declaring the scene before him "revolutionary."
Jacob was present last month when Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament in Schaumburg debuted its new show featuring Queen Dona Maria Isabella in the lead. Before this, the lead role in the dinner theater's 35-year history has always gone to a man, the king.
The updated narrative has aptly landed, if not by design, in a cultural moment of women's marches, #metoo reckonings and female superheroes, something Jacob's 12-year-old brother Jeremiah also picked up on.
The role reversal "goes along with modern-day people wanting equality for men and women," he said.
It's "important for the boys to appreciate that women can hold same roles as men," said their father, Juan Serrano.
The show's director, Leigh Cordner, of Orlando, spent a year-and-a-half rewriting the script for the show, which will be performed at all nine of the chain's faux-castles in the U.S. and Canada.
Having just watched the premiere of the new show in Dallas, Cordner said he enjoyed hearing the audience react when the queen defends her authority when challenged by male characters.
Cordner, who also has performed in each of the male roles throughout his career with the show, including the king for 20 years, wanted to diverge from story lines where women have to marry to gain validation but can command authority on their own. It wasn't cultural currents that inspired him as much as the feedback he heard of the years from audiences asking for a woman to take the helm.
"I am proud to say I was working on this show 18 months ago," he said. "We are ahead of the trend."
Blazing that trail involved the creation of hundreds of handmade costumes for the cast and horses and months of learning new jousting and fight choreography taught by Tim Baker, director of stunts and choreography, who has been with the show since its beginnings in Kissimmee, Fla., in 1983.
While still presenting the last show, hundreds of team members and horses were training. And the actors rehearsed new lines and scenes. It took two months to teach the performers portraying queens to ride Andalusian stallions.
Then there was the new music, written by composer and jazz pianist Daniel May and recorded in Kiev with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine.
And when the queen entered the arena on horseback at opening night in Schaumburg, wearing a flowing gown of gold and burgundy and a jeweled crown, the crowd erupted with shouts from the audience, especially from young girls.
She demanded to be treated in the same manner as her father, the late king. She exerted her authority when necessary but in a steady and even-tempered tone.
Her authority was at times challenged by the knights, but she didn't shy from reminding them she was in charge, and each time she did, the crowd cheered her on. Allyssa O'Donnell, one of four performers who plays the queen in Schaumburg, does not let the position of power get to her head but requires her court act honorably.
At one point she was displeased with a knight who has acted dishonorably. She told her chancellor: "We must govern over the tournament as we would ourselves be governed, with fairness and with honesty." The knight then chastised the chancellor for asking "a woman" for permission to let him back in the games.
But the queen didn't back down and sternly reminded the knight that she is the ruler.
"I gave her strength and ability to solve the conflict and not have to defend herself as the queen," Cordner said of the scene, adding he wanted to "show her strength and her reign."
Jadyn Enas, 12, of Aurora, attended the show with her family and cheered on the battles and the queen's commands. "I like the queen better," Jayden said. "A queen can do the same thing a king can do."
After the show, as boys and girls of all ages posed for photos with the queen, O'Donnell said playing the queen "is so much fun."
"It's always important to give little girls a positive role model," O'Donnell said as she posed for photos with audience members. "It is so important to give them a strong woman to look up to."