ZinZanni’s new production falls short

Lower Queen Anne still mourns the loss of one of its favorite entertainment spots, Teatro ZinZanni, forced out of the neighborhood by real estate developers. The famous spiegeltent has moved to King County’s Marymoor Park, where it will run through April 29, 2018. 

The popular production has reopened with a revival of its very first production, “Love, Chaos, and Dinner” (L, C & D), which debuted in 1998. As ever, the show features a diverse group of international performers for an evening of the three Cs — Cirque, Comedy, and Cabaret. 

The action unfolds under the 29-foot high, mirrored ceiling of the Moulin Rouge Spiegeltent, imported from Belgium. Originally built in 1910, it’s one of the oldest in the world. 

ZinZanni’s cast features a first-time “Madame ZinZanni,” Ariana Savalas, overseeing a duo on aerial trapeze, a mute magician, a “contortionist-puppet,” a yodeling dominatrix, a hoop aerialist, and a Parisian acrobat. 

Teatro’s latest offering combines old and new. To contradict a phrase from Peter Allen’s songbook, “Everything old is NOT new again.” This production falls short of ZinZanni’s two previous shows, “Hotel L’Amour” and “Welcome to Wonderland.” 

Every ZinZanni production follows a storyline. “L, C, & D” celebrates the opening night of the new Teatro , its staff anxiously awaiting the arrival of a world-renowned restaurant critic. But they don’t know what he/she looks like. 

Of course, there’s the usual hullabaloo to announce courses. The Maître d’ has staffed his restaurant with mechanical waitresses, chefs that defy gravity, and an amorous busboy who has finally met his match. However, the feigned chaos during the first half sometimes meanders. 

Most of the acts have been seen in previous ZinZanni shows, except the brand new Madame ZinZanni. Savalas played a one-night stand at Teatro ZinZanni in 2016, but “L, C, & D” marks her official bow. The daughter of film and TV actor Telly — “Who Loves You, Baby? — Savalas, is touted for her risqué on-stage music and comedy. She has a pleasant singing voice, but lacks the wicked charisma of a truly naughty Madame ZinZanni.

She can’t compete with Seattle’s favorite 6-foot-2 yodeling dominatrix from Austria — garbed in seven-inch stilettos, mini red and black leather and matching helmet and whip. After she’s disciplined you, she looks ready to join the Roman army and fight the Gauls. Instead, she changes into a Dirndl dress and balances tiers of beer steins. 

ZinZanni’s roster of talent hails from Seattle to the Ukraine. Expect the usual interruptions and playful confusion, including slapstick, Vaudeville, clowns, waiters acting up, and unsuspecting audience members pressed into service to add to the mirth. 

The small orchestra plays a diverse selection of music. You’ll recognize many of the numbers, including the familiar can-can music without the leg action, a lively version of “America” from “West Side Story,” and ominous chords from “The Phantom of the Opera.” 

Two more ZinZanni returnees show off their international talents. Big-eyed, pink-haired, Russian performance artist Svetlana blends contortion, modern dance, pantomime skills, and mime in her robotic marionette contortionist act — like a puppet without strings. She too is an original Teatro cast member. 

Ukrainian aerialist Elena Gatilova shows off her rhythmic gymnastics on her sparkling, crescent moon hoop. A several-time national champion, she spent fifteen years mastering her skills. And it shows — not a bit of cellulite on her well-toned body. She brings out the “if only” regrets in most of us. 

Maestro Voronin, the Ukrainian-born illusionist/magician, is also back. An original Teatro ZinZanni cast member, he has been described as a cross between Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati. Swirling his cape, the sly magician never speaks. Decked out in vampire couture with a secret supply of magic confetti, he seems creepier this time around, just waiting to expose his fangs and sink them. 

The multi-talented Joe De Paul directs “L, C, and D.” ZinZanni fans have seen his work for “Be Italian!,” “Hollywood Nights,” and “Welcome to Wonderland.” A Canadian actor, writer, teacher, director, and clown, De Paul is known for his physical comedy and his Sinatra vocal style. He also possesses the same no-holds-barred comedy chops that catapulted James Corden to fame. De Paul strips down to his black latex briefs for a hilarious King Kong routine. De Paul may have a diminutive James Cagney/Danny DeVito physique, but his talent turns him into a giant. 

As one of three from the beloved acrobatic trio, Les Petits Frères, Domitil Aillot was featured at ZinZanni for over a decade. Now he performs as a solo artist working on the Chinese Pole, a vertical pole on which circus performers climb, slide down and hold poses. There were plenty of “oohs,” “ahs”, and “wows,” as he climbs the pole, then challenges gravity by releasing his hold and flying down the pole in a matter of seconds. It’s the same tummy tickle you get when you zoom down a steep hill. 

Two of the entertainers let it all hang out — on a single trapeze some 20 feet above the diners: Trapeze favorites Duo Madrona — aka Ben Wendel and Rachel Nehmer — are back. Based in Seattle, they met as biology nerds in college. After a stint as lab partners at the University of Washington, the couple made the unlikely decision to test out their chemistry on a trapeze. 

Teatro’s menu suffers from moving pains and budget cuts. Although the preshow champagne is perfect, the current preset menu is not — it has been reduced from five courses to four. The portions are small. The appetizer was bland and beige. The soup was bland and beige. This critic chose the salmon entre. It was beige, accompanied by a cauliflower puree, which, was — you guessed it. Another entrée option was the spicy Vegetarian Tagine with carrots, which at least offered a spot of color. 

Where is the lovely filet mignon that graced previous preset menus? Or the delicious crab cakes? Sorry, they’re only available with pricey menu enhancements. If you’re feeling flush, you can upgrade to a rib steak or Dungeness crab cakes. And there is no salad to be seen. In a flash of insight, perhaps the rabbit in “Welcome to Wonderland,” snuck into the larder. 

One thing is still Teatro-fabulous — the staff. In particular, Mackenzie, Rory, and Michael, the savvy boutique manager, whose love of sparkles matches this critic’s Bling-Bling fantasies. 

As a devoted fan of Teatro ZinZanni, I believe the rough edges of its new production will smooth out and evolve into the marvelous show we love and expect. And hopefully, the Seattle favorite will find its way back to its old neighborhood. 

In between the long treks to Marymoor (90 minutes in peak traffic), this Queen Anne resident will stand on her balcony, look into the sunset with a hopeful heart, and make a wish. She will repeat in beseeching tones the classic last line of the film “Shane.” “Come back, come back, please come back.” 

Teatro ZinZanni’s, “Love, Chaos, and Dinner,” plays Wednesdays through Sundays until April 29, 2018 at King County’s Marymoor Park. Tickets starts at $99. For more information, visit www.zinzanni.com/ seattle or call the box office at 206- 802-0015 

Correction (Nov. 15): An earlier version of this story referred to original songs from Ariana Savalas. All of the songs she sings in the show are covers.