Teatro ZinZanni Chicago. Now and Forever!
You know what they say about the importance of first impressions. In the case of Teatro ZinZanni’s “Love, Chaos and Dinner”—the smashing new experiential production merging cirque, vaudeville, music and comic mayhem with fine dining—now playing in the dazzling Spiegeltent ZaZou on the 14th floor of the Cambria Hotel, my first impression was simply unforgettable. That moment happened for me two days before the show opened last week, during an early afternoon backstage tour at the gracious invitation of producer Stanley Feig. As the elevator doors opened to reveal the space in all its brilliant, inspired, complex glory, the size and scope of the exquisite new Chicago theater district venue was immediately enchanting. And that was well before a cocktail was delivered, a note was played, a ping pong ball was gobbled up or the salad course was served.
In the middle of the pre-opening activities, all under the ingenious direction of Norman Langill and co-director/choreographer Dreya Weber, a large group huddled at the opening of the glistening 100-year-old tent—surrounded by ornate stained-glass panels, enveloped in lush red velvet and rich wood craftsmanship—and struggled mightily as one to push and pull a thick rubber sleeve over a 30-foot pole. The person in charge, I would learn later, was a member of the performing troupe, French artist Domitil Aillot, whose work on the Chinese Pole is world-renowned.
Aillot is in fine company. The Anastasini Brothers, an extraordinary body juggling act, are part of a ninth-generation circus family, have toured extensively and are making their Teatro ZinZanni debut in Chicago. Duo Rose, an award-winning aerial adagio act, has toured in Europe, Australia and the United States. Gamal David Garcia, born in Venezuala, hails from a third-generation circus family, and his juggling skills were honed in the Mexican circus, Atayde Hermanos. The stunning aerialist Elena Gatilova was a world-champion gymnast competing for Ukraine before joining Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas and later Teatro ZinZanni, for which she has performed in seven productions.
And yet there’s still more. The “Love” in the title is personified by Rizo (aka Amelia Zirin-Brown) also known as the mesmerizing “Madame ZinZanni,” a rapturous beauty with a soaring voice and an infectious, sultry personality. Love also fills the air with the remarkable performance of soprano Kelly Britt, a Chicagoan who has a family history in the Parisian circus. With feet planted squarely on the edge of “Love” and “Chaos,” however, is The Caesar (Frank Ferrante), a manic, mischievous, larger-than-life ringmaster who delivers a blistering non-stop performance.
Clearly “Chaos” is embodied in the high-spirited comic turns of Tim Tyler and Joe De Paul, who serve as maître de-like impresarios while serving up hilarious routines interspersed throughout the evening. The gangly Tyler has been entertaining audiences with his inspired clown persona Mr. P.P. for more than three decades, and Cirque veteran De Paul, a stubby, fun-loving, free spirit with impeccable timing, make a gloriously entertaining comic team. Accented by a superb wine list, the multi-course “Dinner” is a scrumptious culinary experience courtesy of Debbie Sharpe’s The Goddess and The Grocer.
All of the performers, and an expanded service staff, make for a lively evening as they pass in and among the guests just before plying their artistry on, above and among the confines of the Spiegeltent ZaZou—in shimmering Christine Joly de Lotbiniere costumes—to a pulsating musical score under the direction of Hans Teuber with Band Leader Russ Long. So, I am already making plans to return after August 14 for Aillot’s Chinese Pole routine. I know this because when I returned for the show last Friday, with a little prodding, I recognized Aillot in the elevator on the way up. It was my second unforgettable impression of Teatro ZinZanni’s “Love, Chaos and Dinner”… and the elevator doors to the 14th floor had not even opened yet for the main event.
Tim Tyler (Mr. P.P.) and Joe De Paul with cast at Petterinos - August 10, 2019
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