March 16, 2007
Volume 35
Issue 11
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Friday, Jan 17, 2020



Bits & Bytes
Teatro ZinZanni scores with zany Love & Lunacy, ArtsWest stages powerful Gay-themed Thrill Me, New Puccini For Beginners looks at Lesbian life
by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

GLBT entertainment fans have a wide variety of choices on stage and screen this week. The Gay-themed Thrill Me at ArtsWest brings an off-Broadway musical hit to West Seattle, Lesbian lives and loves take the focus of three new stage and screen offerings-including the new Puccini For Beginners at the Varsity Theatre, and the wild and crazy Teatro ZinZanni offers the proverbial "something for everyone"-all of this and St. Patrick's Day this weekend. What a great time for Emerald City arts fans-and for Bits&Bytes, and that's no green beer blarney. Read on:

"Incredible!" "Impossible!" "Unbelievable!" These are only a few comments from the table of four Gay men seated next to Bits&Bytes as the evening unfolded at Teatro ZinZanni's newest staging, Love & Lunacy. The cabaret, vaudeville, circus, musical revue was new to all four of the Gay quartet.

Gathered to celebrate the birthday of one of the pair of lovers, all four had decided to splurge and "go all the way." Festive hats from ZinZanni's lobby boutique turned the table into a costume party to rival the on-stage theatrics. The birthday boy wore a golden crown, of course. His lover of nine months sported a grade school beanie, complete with a twirling propeller. The other two men, friends of the pair but not coupled ("we're both looking&.") wore a sequined top hat and a black velvet beret. And in the crowd of ZinZanni patrons, they looked totally normal. Face painting adorned many. Feather boas-available for sale in the lobby-were sported by men and women alike.

Late in the show, couples were invited to dance on the center, circular stage in this historic European touring tent. "Men-dance with your wives! Dance with your girlfriends! Dance with your boyfriends! At Teatro ZinZanni, we don't care!" shouted one of the cast members. And, living up to its title, the zany ZinZanni truly doesn't.

For the many who have never been, Teatro ZinZanni is a combination performance and dinner event. Part of the performance is the dinner-"Enter The Soup!" proclaims the master of ceremonies as waiters rush on with the soup, reminding many of the Harmonia Gardens scene from Hello, Dolly! "Now, serve the main course" comes later. And, of course, part of the dinner is the performance. There are few boundaries at ZinZanni.

The circus-like musical revue is currently headed by London's Melanie Stace, a talented (and beautiful) singer who stars as Madame ZinZanni. She enters on a highly theatrical train that encircles the Art Deco performance tent-talk about an entrance. She sings-wonderfully-a series of Great American Songbook classics: "Get Happy," a knockout "Birth Of The Blues," a sparkling "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" and a lilting "Lost In The Masquerade."

Her entrance on the train is pure ZinZanni. She steps off the train in a classic 1950s white summer dress with oversized navy blue polka dots. A navy picture frame hat tops her outfit. Then in a flash, the travelling outfit disappears and Stace is in a stunning, silver sequined diva dress. Incredible.

The vaudeville/circus format continues with British comedian Geoff Hoyle, with Seattle Rep credits in his past from performances with Bill Irwin. Here is a faux-Russian chef with plans to open a chain of new restaurants, TzarBucks. The comic madness continues.

Top talent from Europe add wonder to ZinZanni. A sensual "Vertical Tango" finds a U.S./Swiss couple "dancing" in mid-air. The award-winning aerial act has been a sensation in Europe, Japan, Australia-and now it repeats that success in Seattle.

Clowning, mugging, center stage events (a sad and silly "King Kong" episode comes to mind) are all audience pleasers. Voronin, the mortician-like Ukrainian illusionist, mingles with the dinner patrons. (He pulled a quarter out of this scribe's ear at the opening night of the original Teatro ZinZanni at the Seattle Center many years ago and nightmares still occur.) Last Sunday night, he seemed happy to float an unlit cigarette up and down for the amusement of dinner guests. He is one of the few original members of the ZinZanni troupe which changes guest artists and core routines with regularity, keeping the show fresh and appealing for return audiences.

The five-course dinner, designed by chef Tom Douglas, also changes during the seasons. The wonderful carrot/parsnip soup is clearly a winter choice. The first course, a French country pate, had coriander-pickled grapes as an accompaniment-a first for Bits&Bytes (but not the last).

The main course offered a choice of three entrees-roast pork or ling cod, both with sweet and-sour red cabbage, gnocchi and green beans. A goat cheese and caramelized onion ravioli was the third offering.

A delicious apricot tart ended the meal with hot coffee. Bits&Bytes' guest confessed that she would have been happy with the soup, some bread and the incredible dessert, but like all things at ZinZanni simplicity is not the style. The delicious meal and the show are part of a dinner/theatre package. Drinks are extra but not outrageously overpriced.

While ZinZanni is considered an expensive outing, it is really not when one considers the gourmet meal and the three-hour show. Elegant, unusual, exotic--yes, yes and yes. Undoubtedly a special occasion outing. The birthday table all agreed that it is destination dining event. The coupled pair are already planning a return for the new show, opening in late April.

"We'll celebrate our first anniversary then," they gushed. Together just nine month, "we had a marriage ceremony in our bedroom months ago." (No, Bits&Bytes did not ask-the waiter did!)

Ticket information on all ZinZanni shows is available at 802-0015. And, sure, go ahead and tell 'em Bits&Bytes and SGN sent ya.

Seattle stage fans-especially musical theater nuts-will make the award winning Thrill Me at ArtsWest a "must see" in the coming weeks. The new production---headlining the show's composer and playwright in one of the two major roles, repeating his celebrated New York appearances-continues through March 24.

The two-character musical is a retelling of the 1924 Leopold and Loeb "thrill killing" that was billed as the Crime Of The Century in tabloid land. The two young, wealthy college men were involved in a torrid homosexual relationship with Leopold as the mastermind--and masterful, dominate and demanding role as the decision maker. Loeb, sexually addicted to the charismatic Leopold, was the ever-faithful follower who couldn't say no. Resisting Leopold was impossible-in petty thefts, arson, kinky sex or murder.

Thrill Me uses this unlikely source material-explored in many versions from Alfred Hitchock's Rope to the best selling Compulsion-to create this 85 minute mini-musical, one step above a song cycle, with 15 songs. A critical hit off-Broadway, the show has limited appeal, but is an important work, especially for GLBT audiences who supported the show in New York. ArtsWest has a long history of GLBT programming and support and that same crowd will undoubtedly turn out for Thrill Me.

Grants from PONCHO and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation (yes,, that Paul Allen) support the production and made it possible for ArtsWest to lure the composer/playwright to repeat his New York stage work as the complex and unstable Leopold.

Stephen Dolginoff is solid in his work as Leopold, but it is ArtsWest veteran John Bartley as Loeb who is the revelation here. His "supporting" roles in sexual activity, in the crime and in the play take a sudden, unexpected twist in the musical's final moments. It's a performance to remember.

Thrill Me is a challenging work but one that deserves to be seen. Ticket details at 938-0339.

Three new arts offerings focus on Lesbian lives and loves.

Stop Kiss, a powerful drama about violence toward Lesbians and the power of love and forgiveness, just opened at the Seattle Public Theatre which makes its home at the Bathhouse Theatre on the western shore of Green Lake. The rewarding drama continues through April 8. Ticket details at 524-1300.

Gray Matters, a new Lesbian-themed film comedy, opened last Friday--the merry mix-up of a Lesbian sister who falls in love with her brother's new wife, received mixed reviews but was popular with GLBT audiences over its first weekend.

Puccini For Beginners, another Lesbian comedy with a straight twist, opens today for a one-week, exclusive engagement at the Varsity Theatre in the University District.

As always, it is imperative that Seattle's diverse GLBT community support Gay and Lesbian-themed works early in their run. Box office records are the major indication of support, and future booking are often based on how well a new film or play performs in its opening weekend. Enough said.

There's so much to like about Maria Maggenti's new Lesbian-themed comedy, Puccini For Beginners, that Bits&Bytes is sad to report that the sum is less than its parts. Warm, witty, wise characters dominate the screwball comedy's labyrinthine plot twists. Delightful characters head the plot and all three are terrifically cast. The tag line in the film's ad campaign says it all: "Bring Your Boyfriend, Your Girlfriend&Or Both!"

Justin Kirk gets top billing as the hunk involved with two women-one a confirmed Lesbian with "occasional" flings with men, the other a ditzy blonde pushing for commitment. Kirk is terrific as Philip. GLBT film fans will remember him for his Gay characters in the HBO Angels In America as Prior Walker and the stage and film versions of Love! Valour! Compassion! where he played the blind Bobby, his breakout role on stage and screen. He is always watchable and all of his Puccini scenes are top notch. Born in Salem, OR, Kirk grew up in Union, WA., giving Puccini a "local boy makes good" Emerald City appeal.

Elizabeth Reaser is the stunning Allegra, a Lesbian fighting against commitment. An opera lover, which gives the film its title, she's been dating her female lover "for just nine months." A stylish ex, a Meryl Streep-look alike, snaps, "Allegra, you have to reinvent yourself." All are surprised when she does-as a torrid lover to Kirk's hunk-of-the-month. She's proudly "been wearing the same hairstyle since grade school," but she has no problem switching roles in bed.

Gretchen Mol starred last year as The Notorious Bettie Page and was incredible in the 2003 film version of Neil LaBute's The Shape Of Things, a role she played in the New York and London stage productions. Here, she is Grace, the dumb blonde role in this attempt at reinventing a 1930s screwball comedy. She is constantly appealing, projecting a winning innocence that makes the audience believe that she could casually enter into a Lesbian relationship and discover her "true self" in a few short days.

With clever characters and some snappy dialog ("Don't binge now-wait for the party!"), Puccini For Beginners has a lot of potential. A Valentine to a Woody Allen-like New York City, the film is pleasant and often rewarding. It does not measure up to Maggenti's 1995 The Incredibly True Adventure of 2 Girls In Love, one of this scribe's favorite Lesbian-themed relationship comedies, but is has rewards of its own. Check it out for a lightweight weekend flick.

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