Regional Reviews: San Francisco
The Extraordinary French Chanteuse Liliane Montevecchi Returns To San Francisco's Teatro ZinZanni
Performer extraordinaire Liliane Montevecchi returns to San Francisco's wonderful opulent Love, Chaos and Dinner show in the magnificent Parisian spiegeltent on the Embarcadero in San Francisco. This marks the fourth year of this enchanting three hour spectacle with a four course meal that has been described by the New York Times as "a slapstick movie being filmed in a restaurant during the dinner hour." Ms. Montevecchi plays Madame ZinZanni with that "joie de vivre" that is very infectious to the patrons.
Dame Montevecchi (she was knighted by the Knights of Malta) is charismatic as she as she walks about the tables singing poignant French songs that were made famous by such artists as Mistinguett, Edith Piaf, Fanny Brice and Montevecchi herself.
The famed diva has been a personal favorite of mine ever since I saw her in the original productions of Irma La Douce, Nine and Grand Hotel, plus her highly acclaimed On the Boulevard in London. There is still no one who can sing "Folies Bergères" like she can.
Montevecchi is stunning in the various gowns that she wears throughout the evening. In her first appearance, she floats out onto the center of the round stage dressed in a red velvet form-fitting sequinned gown and a red feather wig. She breaks into "Je Cherche Un Millionaire" as she goes from table to table to find a millionaire.
Later, Ms. Montevecchi does a beautiful arrangement of "La Vien Rose" and sings the heartfelt Fanny Brice song "My Man." Toward the end of the show, she returns dressed in a black coat, black hat and her natural hair singing "Just a Gigolo." This charismatic artist still has the persona to charm an audience.
The three hour extravangance is part modern circus and part old time vaudeville in a setting of the Moulin Rouge in the 19th century. Each course is interrupted by aerial or athletic acts. Many of the acts that we saw last year are still on the bill, and it is enjoyable to watch them again. Michael Davis as the comic chef Tad Overdone still breaks up the audience with his old time vaudeville one liners (such as why is "abbreviate" such a long word?) and he tells the audience he is bisexual which means he gets sex twice a year. He still does his great juggling act with full undressed chickens and a big blob of margarine using a member of the audience as his foil.
Joe Orrach as the pugilistic hoofer still has the stamina to perform his high stepping energetic tap dance on a round table in the center of the ring. This is an amazing feat of endurance and fortitude. Mat Plendl as Chou Chou, a mime who dresses like an ad for Turkish cigarettes, is still fun to watch as he goes from table to table. However, when Mat sheds this costume for his steel hula hoop gig, he shows great agility and movement with the many hoops.
Martha Enson as the clown and acrobat Rosie is wonderful doing a bungee dance 50 feet in the air from a single rope hanging from the ceiling. She is a wonderful clown, going from table to table always in character. She would make a perfect Fanny Brice in a production of Funny Girl. Once again, Helene Turcotte and Luc Martin thrill the audience in their duo trapeze act high above the tables without a net. Before doing her death defying feats, Ms. Turcotte goes about the tables as a cleaning lady with a northern Minnesota accent. I almost hired her to clean our apartment.
Eugenie Renee and Gilles Lacroix are sensual and terrific aerialists who glide gracefully above the audience suspended only by a thin strip of fabric. Singer Heather Clemens as The Diva does a beautiful aria from Turandot while Kevin Joyce as Senor Demonio the Maitre d' sheds his stern Tartuffe-like clothes and cuts loose in a jive number toward the end of the program.
Nineteen year old Vladimir Malachikhun is the newcomer to the fold and plays only three weeks at the restaurant. This artist, who was trained by his father in the Moscow Circus, does a unique hand to hand balancing act. Vladimir has won many awards in Europe, including the Gold Clown in Monte Carlo and a Bronze Lion in China, for his ethereal act which is astonishing.
Liliane Montevecchi will be Madame ZinZanni until February 2004. Teatro ZinZanni is located at Pier 29, The Embarcadero at Battery Street, San Francisco. Call 415-438-2668 or visit www.zinzanni.org.