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San Francisco by Richard Connema

A Wild And Wonderful Evening At Teatro ZinZanni

Also see Richard's review of The RehEARsal

Teatro ZinZanni is San Francisco's latest extravagance, located in their magnificent spiegeltent on the Embarcadero in San Francisco. This lavish production is starting its fourth year in our city. The artistic director has informed me that 160,000 people have seen this dazzling three hour production since it first opened in 2000. Originally it was presented in Seattle in October 1998 where it enjoyed a 14 month sold out run.

Teatro ZinZanni is part Cirque de Soleil, part Moulin Rouge, part old fashioned vaudeville. Between each of the five courses of dinner, cabaret artists, aerialists, dancers, singers and specialty acts provide entertainment.

Teatro ZinZannie

The spiegeltent itself is a wonder. It is a hand sewn, circular pavilion with a wooden floor, leaded glass windows, canvas, mirrors and cut glass work detailed in velvet and brocade. The “tents” were very popular in Europe in the early 1900s and they housed exhibitions and even dance halls. This particular structure was built in 1926 and was called Palais Nostalgique. The arrangement made its first appearance in this country in October 1998. The interior is a wonderful to behold.

Audience members are escorted to their reserved tables where hors d'oeuvre await and glasses of champagne are poured by one of the two waiters assigned to each table. Ours were most personable: a waiter named Boston (an ex-actor from Los Angeles) and a new young waitress called Bree.

The artists come around in various disguises, such a bare chested blond young man called “Blondie,” offering a chocolate cigarette from Belgium. Chou-Chou (Mat Plendl), the maitre d’hotel who looks like Harold Lloyd in a Turkish outfit, is haughty and imperious with the staff who are constantly goofing up. Dishes are dropped, the chef comes out to argue, and there is so much going on, it is hard to comprehend. This all occurs before the actual show begins

A “chef” called Tad Overdone (Michael Davis) explains each course. He says the taste of soup will be with you all night and part of the next day. He is also bi-sexual which means he has sex twice a year. The jokes are strictly old time vaudeville zingers. You almost think Henny Youngman is back with us again. Davis is also a decent juggler, and he gets a member of the audience to interact with his juggling. The juggling of a full undressed chicken and a big blob of margarine is priceless. It’s corny but I am sucker for this kind of act.

All of the performers are flawless. The Stretch People (John Beresford and Martin Varallo) hail from Cambridge, England, and they are hilarious with their British music hall jokes and their amazing balancing act with wooden chairs being built up to 15 feet.

Kitten (Duffy Bishop) is the Chanteuse and her warm blues voice is engaging when she is singing softly next to your table; in the next song, she commands the stage with a powerful smoky voice. She is a marvelous chanteuse wearing a Mae West type of gown.

The Diva (Kristin Clayton) has a bell clear opera voice and she looks like an old fashioned diva of the early 20th century - think Lillian Russell or Jenny Lynn. She sings everything from opera arias to one of Nino Rota’s songs from a Fellini film.

Chou-Chou turns out to be the U.S. National Hula Hoop Champion and he really can twirl those metal hoops, going up to 10 rings twisting around his body.

Joe Orrach as Tino is a pugilistic tap dancer. He starts out shadow boxing and then goes into an impressive tap dance routine that has him sweating from all pores. Elena Serafimovich from Kiev is an aerial delight. Her aerial twist on the trapeze is breathtaking.

The piece de resistance of the evening is the Duo Mouvance from Montreal who are absolutely astonishing. Helene Turcotte and Luc Martin, the cigarette boy, mesmerize the audience. Ms. Turcotte climbs 30 foot high on a heavy rope at the center of the ring. She hangs by one foot, head down, contorting herself into graceful shapes. Martin climbs up the rope and uses his muscular body to assist his partner in various shapes.

The star attraction is El Vez who is the Mexican Elvis Presley. He interacts with the other artists throughout the show singing rock 'n' roll in his gold lamé costume and swinging his salsa-hips. He sings such Presley classics like “En el Barrio” and “Viva La Raza.”

Teatro also has a fine seven piece orchestra that plays every kind of music, from early Kurt Weill to blues to Cirque du Soleil to rock 'n' roll. They are a great group of musicians.

One of the incredible things is that these artists stay in character as they mill amongst the tables, interacting with the guests. Teatro ZinZanni can be described as “Love, Chaos and Dinner.” It’s one of a kind and there is no comparison to any other production. As one person said, it's “the Kit Kat Klub on acid.”

The five course dinner is very good with a selection of two entrees. It will cost you $99 each on Wednesday, Thursday or Sunday - $125 on Friday or Saturday - for dinner and a full evening's entertainment. It is well worth the price and you feel good when you leave the spiegeltent. Joan Baez is coming back to star in May followed by blues diva Sandra Reaves-Phillips in July (this time as hostess “Mama Zanni”). For reservation call 415-438-2668 or visit www.teatrozinzanni.org.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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