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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 14, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 41
ZinZanni's new Bonsoir Liliane! a legendary event
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ZinZanni's new Bonsoir Liliane! a legendary event

by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

Teatro ZinZanni continues to work its legendary magic with its newest show, Bonsoir Liliane!, a musical revue honoring the life and career of the legendary French nightclub and theater artist Liliane Montevecchi. Making a welcome return to the Emerald City and Teatro ZinZanni, Montevecchi is in great form - an incredible performer at 80, she is truly remarkable. She has solid support from a number of Seattle-based artists as well as international circus, cirque, and cabaret stars. And, as usual, a five-course gourmet dinner, designed by Seattle's legendary chef, Tom Douglas, adds to the special feeling for the evening. That's a lot of 'legendary' details for one evening. The direction, credited to Broadway's nine-time Tony Award winning actor/director/choreographer Tommy Tune, makes that four special - indeed, legendary - elements in just one outing.

As usual, ZinZanni features one over-the-top moment after another. This edition of the popular spectacle uses a train motif as a unifying theme. The talented wait staff - they sing, they dance, they serve dinner - is dressed in train conductor costumes: smart European red train staff hats with black vests and pants. 'Spiffy' would be a good word.

Montevecchi makes an appropriate diva entrance - incredible gown, towering showgirl headdress, and the obligatory feather boa. The cast gathers on stage as a marching band mixing musical instruments and red and white feathered fans. Seattle's Kevin Kent is the stationmaster, Ziggy, and he hosts the opening sequence. He ad-libs to a young man seated at ringside in the 300-capacity historic tent - 'such a bright pink for a straight boy.' Kent will make numerous appearances as assorted characters - including a lavish drag ensemble.

'Seattle to Bombay, a Train of Dreams' seems to be the show's structure - at ZinZanni no one seems to care much about a logical train (pun intended) of thought. The show purports to be a musical autobiography of Montevecchi, but that soon seems to be derailed. Montevecchi returns in an elegant black and white outfit - one of many stunning costumes she will whip in and out of.

Soup is next on the menu (appetizers were on the table as each guest was seated). Diva & the Dixies takes the focus with a salute to the Andrews Sisters, which segues into The Chordettes' 'Mr. Sandman,' which is followed by a French Cole Porter ditty. In tribute to Montevecchi's early career in ballet, Seattle's Ariana Lallone, a 24-year veteran of Pacific Northwest Ballet and now a new star at Teatro ZinZanni, takes center stage as The Red Swan, a serious take-off on Swan Lake and other classical masterworks.

Montevecchi sings another French hit, there's a strange toast to 'no underwear,' and two of the three Les Petits Freres take the center ring with an entertaining display of aerial acrobatics. Ukrainian contortionist Vita Radionova follows as 'The Spinning Sensation.' She starts as a French schoolgirl with a single hoop. One by one, dozens of other hoops appear and she, incredibly, keeps all of them spinning at once. The Diva & The Dixies return, now and then billed as the Triplets of Bellevue (which may or may not be a pun on the animated French film that has built a cult following). They lead the wait staff on an all-kazoo introduction to 'Be My Little Baby Bumblebee' which finds the trio and the serving staff adorned with hats and headdresses full of bees. This, in the logic of ZinZanni, leads to the salad course.

Lallone returns for a brief moment and a key exchange with Montevecchi. Tobias Larsson then takes the spotlight with a terrific aerial act with a long pole. Montevecchi returns in a glory of blue velvet, feathers, and rhinestones to sing a little-known Cole Porter tribute to big bosoms. Kent returns in full drag as the Queen of Hearts. Audience participation - a major ingredient in any ZinZanni show - turns the crowd into a quivering mass of laughter as Kent ad-libs one hot line after another (this reviewer could have lived without the fart joke). Norman Durkee and his talented musicians - the Orchestra DeVille - took the spotlight for an all-audience dance to 'You Belong To Me' with support from the Dixies which then continued with 'Sincerely.' A pair of Gay men ringside happily joined the dancing throng - this scribe and his guest encountered them by chance on the way home and happily took their photo together to memorialize their special night.

The main course followed. Radionova, now clad in a harem outfit, returned as an incredible contortionist. Lallone returned in elegant butterfly wings and costume. Montevecchi appeared in a classic French clown costume seated on a flying half-moon. She was at her best in Sondheim's 'Send in the Clowns.' A Bollywood extravaganza ended the evening - the wait staff sported gilded turbans to serve the dessert and introduce the finale, a blurring of exotic songs, lavish costumes, and Tune's trademarked 'It's Not Where You Start, It's Where You Finish,' the song from Seesaw - The Musical that won him his first Tony Award (as best supporting actor in a musical).

A touching closing by Montevecchi ended the evening in an elegant manner - all in all, another incredible Teatro ZinZanni event. The show continues through January 29. Ticket information is available at (206) 802-0015.

Some quibbles: While the show was a whirlwind of pleasure and constant fun, it was really just another edition of the long-running - and much-loved - format. Tommy Tune's impact on the show was almost unseen, a disappointment for 'theater types' (like this scribe) who expected more from the multiple Tony Award winner. Dinner - one of a long string of elegant five-course events - was not quite up to its usual standards. Lallone, in her first ZinZanni outing since retiring from PNB in June, was not given all that much to do. And, strangely, there was a persistent rumor at the press table that opening night would be the only night that Montevecchi would perform. No ZinZanni staff member would respond to the disconcerting rumor - without its leading lady, this quasi-autobiographical show would have no focus. At any rate, Montevecchi has continued with the show, ZinZanni has made no comment about the rumor, and friends who have since attended have loved 'the whole evening.'

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