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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Sally Kellerman headlines Teatro ZinZanni

Also see Richard's review of Betrayal and Awe About Eve

Teatro ZinZanniSally Kellerman, veteran of 63 films including an Oscar nomination as Hot Lips in the Robert Altman film MASH, comes to San Francisco’s favorite attraction, Teatro ZinZanni, for a limited engagement as host, Madame ZinZanni. She will be with the show until July 18th. The wonderful theatre that combines "Love, Chaos and Dinner" is now in its 4th year on the Embarcadero. The show is part Moulin Rouge, part Cirque du Soleil and in this case part Marx Brothers film on a high speed drug. Teatro ZinZanni is pure mayhem with some very good acts to entertain dinner guests over a three hour period, including a five course meal. For a splendid time of good food and fun, it is well worth the price.

Teatro ZinZanni is housed in an opulent spiegeltent that was built in Europe in 1926. This luxurious structure is a hand hewn circular pavilion with wooden floors, leaded glass, windows, canvas, mirrors and cut glass work, all detailed in velvet and brocade. The structure was built and erected completely by hand using a unique interlocking system with no nails, screws or tent pegs. These structures were originally built as dance halls in France and Germany in the late 1910s and 1920s. The Palais Nostalgique tent was transported to the United States, making its first appearance in Seattle in 1998 and enjoying a 14 month sold out run before being moved to San Francisco in 2000.

At age 63, Ms. Kellerman looks terrific and has a wonderful, deep-throated voice that is very sensual. Dressed in luxurious outfits, she displays great charisma as she walks about the room like a spirit floating on a cloud, singing songs like “Dream a Little Dream of Me” and the beguiling “Too Marvelous for Words.” Later, she breaks out in a more jubilant mood with “Goody, Goody” to a slower tempo. The sexy lady ends with a wonderful rendition of “Heart and Soul.” What elegance and pose this artist has.

ZinZanni features a crazy chef, portrayed by Los Angeles comic Frank Ferrante. Los Angeles Magazine calls him “the greatest living interpreter of Groucho Marx’s material.” In fact, he earned a Theatre World Award and an Outer Critics Circle nomination for originating the title role in Off Broadway's Groucho: My Life in Review. There is no doubt that Ferrante, who is called Chef Caesar, is part Groucho and part "wild and crazy guy." Sometimes Ferrante goes over the top, yelling and screaming and telling the patrons (who unfortunately become his patsies during his three separate acts), “You are beautiful” (male or female). The jokes are strictly corn but the tourists love him.

Helene Turcotte and Luc Martin from Quebec are wonderful trapeze artists, and they are beautiful together as their trim muscular bodies entwine high above the audience. Bianca Sapetto, known as Mariposa, is a great aerial artist, buoyant gymnast, dance and choreographer from Buenos Aires. Russian artist Svetlana (known as La Candela) undulates, shifts and transforms before your eyes in a wondrous contortionist act. The Les Castors from France are remarkable in their feats of agility known as risley, or body juggling. They combine incredible feats hoisting, spinning and passing kegs, trucks and other objects with their feet. They even juggle a light balsawood desk - it is an incredible feat. Heather Clements returns as opera diva Dolly and she is sublime in arias from Puccini’s operas.

Ukrainian Eugeniy Voronin, who plays Maitre d’Hotel, is a wonderful “silent” illusionist. He dresses like a citizen from Transylvania and slinks about the room doing strange and wonderful magic tricks like making wine glasses flow through the air, and fire come from his fingers and mouth. He came to our table and I watched him mysteriously raise a pair of eye glasses seven feet above the table without touching the object. It is a superb performance.

Based on my three former viewings of this chaotic show, this version is the most frenzied. Summer shows appeal to tourists who want to see fast, crazy, zany action; they will love this show. Jazz and blues specialist Maxine Weldon replaces Sally Kellerman after July 18. The same show will continue with Ms. Weldon until October 10th The spiegeltent is located at Pier 29 on the Embarcadero at the foot of Battery Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-438-2668 or visit www.zinzanni.org for times and prices.


Photo: Pat Johnson


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


- Richard Connema



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