by Milton W. Hamlin -
SGN A&E Writer
Through August 28
As usual, 'love, chaos, and dinner' reign supreme at Teatro ZinZanni where Hail, Caesar has returned in a greatly revised and revamped production for a summer run through August 28. As before, comedian Frank Ferrante heads the cast as Julius Caesar, heavy on comedy with no tragedy (or Ides of March) in sight. Dreya Weber encores her Teatro work in the San Francisco edition of Hail, Caesar as the eternal vamp, Cleopatra. With 'Comedy Tonight' as an unstated theme, this zany ZinZanni offering turns history into a comedy routine and a quest for the elusive Love Spice that sets the dinner and comedy mixture in flight. As usual, the totally unique Teatro ZinZanni soars, offering patrons a rare mix of first-rate European-style cabaret and a first-rate five-course dinner.
HISTORIC TENT ANCHORS SHOW
All Seattle shows use the unique setting of the historic Moulin Rouge spiegeltent - literally 'mirror tent' - from Belgium, originally designed to tour small towns in Europe which could not support their own cabaret theaters. The remaining nine historic tents are still able to be set up or taken down in less than a day and loaded into trucks (originally horse-drawn wagons) and moved to another city on short notice. The first edition of ZinZanni in Seattle, in 1998, used an even older tent, 'Palais Nostalgique.' After a sold-out run of 14 months, the Palais tent was moved to San Francisco, where it still operates as the sister of Seattle's Teatro ZinZanni. In 2002, the Moulin Rouge - an extravagant art deco fantasy - was brought from Europe and erected in Seattle. The Emerald City and the City by the Bay often share ZinZanni productions, often using the exact same cast, often revising the supporting cast of vaudeville headliners. Whatever the mixture, fun is always first and foremost.
QUEST FOR LOVE
DRIVES NEW SHOW
ZinZanni plots are always the merest wisps of stories. In Hail, Caesar, the quest for the famous Love Spice drives what little plot there is. Audience participation is a trademarked element of ZinZanni. This writer was once (accidentally) picked as the new love of the femme fatale. Last week, my guest was the woman chosen by Caesar for center ring attention, and a slow dance to lead the crowd. The audience often wonders if the patrons summoned to stage center are plants or hired actors. Nope, they are genuine guests spotted by the savvy cast members, hopefully to be embarrassed beyond belief but sent home with a souvenir photo of their fleeting moment of eternal fame.
ACROBATICS AND COMEDY
ALTERNATE WITH DINNER
Teatro ZinZanni unspools its center ring circus and cabaret acts between the comedy routines and the five-course dinner. Action and comedy blur into dinner as the performers join with the wait staff to bring the food to the large crowd in the circular circus tent. The blur of activity is what makes ZinZanni so different - it is sometimes easy to confuse the center ring signing with the entrance of various courses. Elaborate headdresses may turn out to signal the entrance of the salad course - danced, of course, to a samba. In this case, the salad reflects the theme of the show; it's a Caesar salad, of course.
Among the headliners in the circus/vaudeville/cabaret acts there are several standouts. Bernard Hazen combines juggling, acrobatics, and rola bola - a stunning balancing act performed on increasingly tall stacks of moving cylinders. Originally from Israel, Hazen has performed all over Europe and is a regular on European television. Weber, our Cleopatra for the evening, is also a talented aerialist and a powerful vocalist. Elena Borodina is a master of the hand balance. The beautiful Russian woman seems to float across the ZinZanni stage as her chiffon scarf flows and floats into infinity. Joel Salom mixes comedy, acrobatics and juggling. A talented pair of trapeze artists, billed as Ssens Duo, trained in Montreal and often perform in Europe and Canada. This is their third ZinZanni engagement.
One favorite of this critic was the solo and duo appearances of Juliana Rambaldi and Victor Benedetti. Both vocalists are outstanding in solo turns, but even better in duets. Both have extensive experience on the opera stage. Rambaldi, billed here as Lady Moundsajoy (a good example of the anything-for-a-laugh level of ZinZanni humor), and Benedetti, here playing a sultan, bring operetta and opera to the ZinZanni tent with spotlight numbers like 'Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life' and 'Temptation' and famous opera arias. To say they make beautiful music together turns out to be an understatement. She has been with ZinZanni since 2004, while he is making his Teatro debut. Off stage, they turn out to be 'real life co-stars.' Separately, they are top-notch. Together, they are a simply terrific husband and wife combo.
The large wait staff often joins in the production numbers - and the stars of center ring take their turns serving the various courses. ZinZanni, if memory serves correctly, has trimmed the number of visiting specialty acts over the years - probably a reflection of economic times. Still, the three-and-a-half hour show and dinner is a wondrous self-contained evening.
THREE ENTREES, FIVE COURSES
The dinner, designed by Seattle's fabled celebrity chef Tom Douglas, starts with an on-the-table appetizer as patrons are seated. This outing finds marinated beefsteak tomatoes (both red and yellow for color), fresh mozzarella, and fried basil. In a word: delicious. The dressing was just tart enough to tempt the taste buds, just sweet enough to start the evening.
After the first section of the show, the soup arrived: spring asparagus. Again, delightful. Creamy and rich, yet not too filling. After more of the show, with a Carmen Miranda-like production number, the entrance of the salad: Caesar, of course. More ZinZanni, and then the main course. This outing featured three choices. Prime beef tenderloin was the choice of all six people at our back-row booth. Macadamia-encrusted sea scallops was a second choice, and ZinZanni's famous mushroom strata was the vegetarian choice. Billed as 'a medley of mushrooms, cauliflower, and chard in a savory custard with a tomato confit garnish,' it was a tempting option, and well-received by diners at a nearby table. Vanilla bean panna cotta with fresh strawberries and mint was the perfect refreshing dessert.
ZinZanni offers a side order of mushrooms, a steak or seafood addition, a basket of fresh-baked breads, and a few other a la carte options. Wine pairings, full cocktail service, and wine by the glass are all available. The dinner and theater package starts at about $110 per person, including table gratuity. Drinks and wine can easily add a bundle to that prepaid price, and ringside seating can add additional charges. While there is no doubt that Teatro ZinZanni is an expensive evening, the combination of 'one-stop' dining and the three-hour show is unbeatable, and without comparison.
Complete information is available at (206) 802-0015. Teatro ZinZanni makes its Seattle home on Mercer Street, across from McCaw Hall. Check it out.
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