Review: Teatro ZinZanni

Originally posted here:

If you’ve been meaning to visit Teatro ZinZanni, now would be a good time to stop talking about it and just do it. ZinZanni is a Seattle institution, which combines European cirque, cabaret, spectacle, and live music while serving up a five-course dinner designed by celebrated Northwest Chef Erik Carlson. The show is presented in a mystical antique cabaret tent and guests are seated restaurant-style while the action of the show takes place throughout the circular structure.

Its newest show, “Dinner at Wotan’s,” co-directed by ZinZanni founder Norm Langill and the Swedish wunderkind Tobias Larsson (who also plays Thor), journeys to Asgard as the Norse Gods, including Thor, Loki, the Valkyries, Brunhilda, and the rest of the gang, prepare for Ragnarok, the Nordic end of the world. A departure from its recent, more sentimental Seattle-themed show, this time the flash and awe of the gods comes roaring into the tent, sometimes astride a glittering motorcycle.

If the only reason you know who Thor is is because Chris Hemsworth was half-naked in some movie that you saw, that’s perfectly alright. The lovely songbird Anki Albertsson as Fricka, Queen of Asgard, is a gracious hostess, leading the audience through some of the finer details of Norse myth, including the proper use of mistletoe.

“Dinner at Wotan’s” perfectly utilizes that special Teatro ZinZanni ability of offering an evening of high caliber entertainment and fine dining that takes you somewhere extraordinary while making you feel at home and in on the joke — as one character quips after introducing a single tree for a lush forest, “You could either get a full forest of trees or dessert.” Costume Designer Louise DeLenge’s costumes, especially worn by Fricka and Brunhilda, daughter of Wotan, are spectacular, but then you have Loki wearing what is clearly a bike helmet with some camo tape stuck on (rimshot!). Even the closing date makes a crack — May 12th, one of many proposed dates for the end of the world.

The music, composed by ZinZanni’s composer-in-residence Norman Durkee with lyrics by Martha Davis of The Motels, makes many nods to familiar music, from The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Queen to Wagner and ABBA, but the arrangements are fresh and new. The live band is small and excellent, with ZinZanni’s Musical Director Hans Teuber, the one-man-winds-band, expertly switching between clarinet, bari-sax, flute, and tenor sax. Lyric soprano Kristin Clayton is a voice to be reckoned with as Brunhilda, Valkyrie and bringer of dead heroes to Valhalla. She sparkles with every phrase — this opera diva is the real deal.

If you’re able to see the show before March 24th, you will be treated to Geoff Hoyle (after which actor Jarion Monroe will take on the role). Holy smokes, folks. Actor, playwright, former Pickle Family Circus clown, Broadway veteran (the original “Zazu” in “The Lion King”), Hoyle’s main role is Wotan, King of Asgard. However, he chameleons into other incredible characters and you don’t even recognize him until you search in the program for that one bit you loved and realize that it’s him.

You can’t have an evening at ZinZanni without some fabulous circus acts. As the economy continues to squeeze Seattle’s indie circus scene, ZinZanni is a beacon. Larsson as Thor fights a dragon while riding a unicycle on a tightrope. Terry Crane, in a perfectly devious performance as Loki, attempts to escape Thor’s wrath with a death-defying rope act that had the audience squealing. You could grate cheese off of Christopher Phi’s body — many-a chin dropped to the floor during his acrobatic hand-balancing act. Back by popular demand, Sandra Feusi and Sam Payne of the Vertical Tango do not disappoint, seamlessly winding up and down the circus pole, ignorant of the very laws of physics.

Marceline, Sylvestre, and Zaza of Los Excéntricos, a Spanish trio of clowns and original ZinZanni cast members, emcee the proceedings. The fanciful ambiance would not be the same without their capers and revelry. Whether playing a multitude of instruments, including hand bells, accordions, lutes, piccolos, and at one magical moment their own fingers, or clowning around, the audience gaily responded to their every caper with unmitigated mirth.

And, of course, the evening comes with a delicious five-course meal. The braised pork belly appetizer is rich and succulent. The smoked gouda and cheddar soup is creamy and cheesy without overpowering the subtlety of the spices. The salad might be the weakest link, as the greens are a bit bitter. The choice of entree includes braised beef short ribs (melts-in-your-mouth), crab-stuffed salmon, and a vegetarian-stuffed puffed pastry thing. There are add-ons such as a delectable baked lobster tail (well worth the $25), bread basket, prawns, and more. There is also a special wine flight ($35), each selection a perfect companion to each course. The dessert, a golden apple tart with cinnamon whipped cream, is a delightful finisher. The wait staff are more than just dancing soup dispensers, they’re funny and charming, and actually seem to be having a good time interacting with the performers as they mingle with the audience between acts.

Because “Dinner at Wotan’s” keeps the content pretty safe, it might be better billed as a wacky Day in the Life of the Norse Gods rather than an End of the World Party. There are also a few nonsequitors in the storyline — why Queen of Asgard sings ABBA’s “Fernando” before dinner (but she sounds great!) and why a little old man bursts onto stage with a comedic vaudeville act (but he’s hilarious!) is anyone’s guess, but you’d have to be a bit of a grinch to nitpick when every act is so much fun.

If you’re looking for a different type of date night, an evening out with friends, or a special way to celebrate, Teatro ZinZanni is a pretty solid choice. For the price (dinner tickets start at $108), you get a high caliber, multifaceted show with a range of acts, a fine five-course meal, and a fleet of people who take serious delight in delighting you. You’d probably spend the same, if not more, on dinner and a show elsewhere, but with ZinZanni you don’t have to travel in between venues and you get to be inside a colorful gypsy tent for a couple hours with kooky gift shop items and roaming troubadours. What’s not to like?

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