An evening at Teatro ZinZanni Seattle has been described as “Love, Chaos & Dinner.” Nowhere else is your food part of the show.
The doors open to the room where the show will be presented, and Serenity, our hostess in black jacket and snappy red and black conductors cap, escorts us to our assigned places, restaurant-style at tables and booths along the outer wall.
“Welcome to our spiegletent,” she says. “It’s 101 years old this year. It’s one of eight tents made by the same architect. This is the Moulin Rouge Tent, named because the cast party of the movie ‘Moulin Rouge’ was celebrated in it over in Paris. It was also used for the Queen of Sweden’s 50th birthday soirée.” She explains that only two of these antique cabaret tents, imported from Belgium, are in the U.S. today; the other is at Teatro ZinZanni in San Francisco.
This is not a “showroom” or a “dining room.” It’s more of a theater-in-the-round venue with white-clothed tables for dining.
The first course is already at our table place setting: Rillettes of savory aged pork topped with a whole grain Dijon sauce served with a crusty baguette, caramelized onion and cornichons.
Danielle, our waitress, wears the same snappy conductors’ uniform and perky smile. She notes our individual entrée preferences and explains that drink service will continue during the show. “In order to not be in the way,” she says, “I’ll be sneaking up behind you so don’t be alarmed to see me crawling up on my knees.”
Our waitress, Danielle.
The musicians enter to take their places at a raised side stage. Their movement through the room of tables is choreographed with flair and drama. The orchestra leader signals them to attention and, with rock dance moves like Mick Jagger on three cups of Starbucks, conducts them through an overture.
This evening’s Teatro ZinZanni original production is “Bonsoir Liliane!” The story celebrates the real life of the star, glamorous octegenarian actress and chanteuse, Dame Liliane Montevecchi. The “Red Swan Express” train theme will take us through her appearances in exotic locales Moscow, Paris, Bombay. I use TheaterMania.com to get all of my Broadway tickets.
Every train has a conductor. The Red Swan Express has Seattle comedic favorite Kevin Kent: “I am your conductor tonight. You may call me ‘Mr. Zig’ or ‘Ziggie’ as Madame does. I will tell you where the dining car is . . . I will also be happy to show you my caboose.”
From the audience Ziggie selects two men to help him welcome Liliane to the dining car. The first he calls “The Charmer”, showing him how to “properly escort Madame.” The second he calls “The Flesh”, who will welcome Madame with promising innuendo.
Madame Liliane — in floor-length red velvet, red floating feather boa and requisite diamonds — enters the spiegeltent. Ziggy introduces blond, hunky actor and cabaret singer, Tobias Larsson, who says something charming in his native language. “That’s Swedish,” he says, and Madame quips, “Oh, you’re from Ballard.” Ziggy then introduces the harmonizing trio Diva & the Dixies as “The Triplets of Bellevue.” Our audience, at least half Seattleites, love these local references.
Diva and the Dixies.
Liliane’s presence fills the spiegeltent. Imagine a sensational combination of Edith Piaf, Gloria Swanson, and Marlene Dietrich with a hearty Phyllis Diller laugh. She enters “the dining car” while Diva & the Dixies sing a ditty with repeating lyrics, “Soupy Soup Soup.” The waitresses dance in choreographed presentation of the soup bowls. The Potage au Potiron is made from fresh, herb-baked pumpkin pureed with Yukon potato, house-made vegetable stock and double cream on top of which float garlic croutons.
From the orchestra stage the trio, Nancy Emmerich, Dixie Jo Henson and Dixie Lu Sims — yes, they are both named “Dixie” — harmonize on McGuire Sisters and Andrew Sisters oldies, “Bei Mir Bist Du Schen” and “C’est Magnifique.”
Ariana Lallone, the Red Swan.
This effectively diverts attention from a T-shaped stage rising from the floor in the center of the spiegeltent. On this stage, former Pacific Northwest Ballet star Ariana Lallone performs a solo as The Red Swan, followed by Liliane’s rendition of the haunting French classic, “La Vie En Rose.” The next performer is Ukrainian contortionist Vita Radionova, a graduate from the legendary Circus School of Kiev, sensationally spinning up to 20 hula hoops simultaneously.
The triplets return to the orchestra stage to sing “Be My Little Baby Bumblebee” as wazoo-blowing waitresses dance into the room bringing the salad course. Their conductor hats now sport bumblebees bobbing on wire stems. Danielle says, “Sometimes we like to swat each other backstage.” The Salad au Funghi contains crispy pancetta ham, toasted garlic almonds and dried local cherries tossed up with a red wine vinaigrette in baby greens.
Captain Ziggy is versatile as an Alice in Wonderland Queen of Hearts, choosing a consort from the audience for a comedy romp that turns out to be improv at its best.
Queen of Hearts, Keven Kent.
The audience delights to the aerial acrobatics and warm wit of Les Petits Frères--Domitil Aillot, Gregory Marquet, and Mickael Bajazet — who gracefully defy gravity. In one action, the white tablecloth is whipped from a ringside table, on which one Frère performs a breath-taking handstand.
The circular spiegeltent is much more intimate than other theater, circus, or dinner shows; it seats around 285. No bad seats here — performances are clearly visible from all vantage points. When the entrée is served, there is a break from major acts and light orchestral music allows us to focus on the main course.
I’ve chosen the Steak Au Poivre, medium rare. From the Double R Ranch in Okanagan, the steak is pepper and spice crusted and served with a cognac demi glace, potato soufflé, roasted golden beets, and green beans. My tablemate raves about the Poisson a la Provençale, a wild-caught Arctic char filet topped with roasted balsamic tomatoes, capers, sweet onion and herbs and served with saffron rice. The third choice is a Vol-au-vent, herb-sautéed wild mushrooms, roasted peppers, and green beans combined with parmesan cheese and a savory mushroom sauce and served in a puff pastry.
These French-flaired servings are the creation of Executive Chef Erik Carlson, aided by his team of sous chefs and sommeliers. “We’re a pretty small, tight crew back there,” he says. “We make one menu for a four-month run. On a full night we can serve 300 plates in a 15-minute time period for you folks to enjoy.” When reservations are made, people are asked if they have any dietary restrictions or food allergies so that Chef Erik can accommodate those needs.
While we enjoy our entrées, Captain Ziggy and the other entertainers stroll among the tables, kibitzing with diners. For dessert we are served a Tarte aux Pommes de Construit: a warm white chocolate, tart cherry and apple pie compote with cinnamon pie crisp and fresh whipped cream.
Ukrainian contortionist, Vita Radionova.
Seattle’s own Norm Langill, original creator of Teatro ZinZanni, serves as Artistic Director. For Director and Musical Staging of “Bonsoir Liliane” he has brought in nine-time Tony Award winner Tommy Tune, who has been called the “First Gentleman of Broadway.” Together they have created a fine musical comedy tribute to the life of a legendary French star.
Some might suggest that simultaneous dining and entertainment can dilute the enjoyment of one or the other, but this is not the case at Teatro ZinZanni. The integration of courses into the show is so seemless that dining becomes a natural enhancement to the action. The three-hour whirlwind of “Bonsoir Liliane” concludes when the Red Swan Express finales in Bombay, India for a dazzlingly colorful expression of all of the talents of the evening. After the bows and thanks and accolades, Madame Liliane Montevecchi leaves us with a final solo, “Mes Amis Bonsoir” and parting wisdom, “After 80 years, if I can do it, you can do it.”
Bonsoir to you, too, Madame Liliane, and merci for an exciting, enchanting evening.
Bonsoir Liliane! plays through January 29, 2012, 222 Mercer Street, at Teatro ZinZanni's one-of-a-kind spiegeltent in the heart of Seattle Center's Theatre District.
While reservations are not required they are highly recommended. For weekday performances, you should typically purchase one week in advance. For weekend performances, two weeks in advance. Premium Floor and Inner Ring Seating can sell out up to one month in advance. Tickets can usually be purchased up to six weeks in advance. Tickets without dinner are not an option as the five-course dinner is an integral part of this entertainment experience.
Tickets may be purchased online at http://dreams.zinzanni.org/tickets.htm or by calling the box office at 206/802-0015, or directly at the box office.
Box Office hours: Monday, closed; Tuesday-Saturday, noon to 7:00 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 6:00 p.m.; (For Sunday brunch performances, the Box Office will open at 10:30 a.m. — lobby opens at 11:00 a.m.)
Teatro ZinZanni is a non-profit arts organization dedicated to the preservation of circus arts, including circus summer camps and camp scholarships for kids.
Teatro ZinZanni Gift Cards are available for purchase online or by calling or visiting the Box Office.
— Feature by Carolyn V. Hamilton, Jetsetters Magazine Adventure Editor; photos courtesy of Teatro ZinZanni.