Teatro ZinZanni's 'Love, Chaos & Dinner' a gastro-theatrical treat
Teatro ZinZanni: "Love Chaos & Dinner" -- ★ ★ ★
Imagine a show that pairs the music of Jimi Hendrix, Jerome Kern and Giacomo Puccini with circus artists and vaudeville-style clowns.
Picture this cabaret/Cirque du Soleil hybrid unfolding in a claret-colored, velvet tent with stained glass insets and crystal chandeliers. Envision it accompanied by a four-course meal, and you have a pretty good idea of what "Love, Chaos & Dinner" is all about.
The theatrical and gastronomical spectacle comes from Teatro ZinZanni, which serves up the feast within the cozy confines of the Spiegeltent ZaZou, a swanky tent imported from Belgium. It occupies the Cambria Hotel's 14th floor, a cavernous, long-forgotten space that was uncovered during renovations for the hotel, which is located in the building that also houses the James M. Nederlander Theatre.
The show itself unfolds as a more intimate version of Cirque du Soleil with comedians, vocalists and an especially garrulous emcee sharing the main stage -- the "center ring" -- with aerialists, jugglers, acrobats and tumblers/body jugglers.
Quick-witted co-host Frank Ferrante -- an 18-year Teatro ZinZanni veteran who starred as the titular funnyman in off-Broadway's "Groucho: A Life in Revue" -- plays Caesar, a quirky charmer who serves up shtick alongside the glamorous chanteuse Rizo (Amelia Zirin-Brown). Resplendent in sequins and feathers, Zirin-Brown rattles the rafters with her powerhouse voice. She shares most of the vocals with Chicago native Kelly Britt, a lovely soprano whose performance of Leonard Bernstein's "Glitter and Be Gay" from "Candide" and "Musetta's Waltz" from Puccini's "La Boheme" suggest she'd be equally at home on the Civic Opera House stage.
That said, "Love, Chaos & Dinner" isn't all arias and acrobats. The deliciously eclectic set list (performed by conductor Russ Long's quintet) includes Hendrix's "Little Wing" and Kern's "The Way You Look Tonight." The latter included a dance break opening night during which Ferrante spun a 91-year-old guest around the dance floor.
Comic relief comes courtesy of the clowns: the ukulele-playing Tim Tyler and Joe De Paul, whose take on "King Kong" is inspired.
The thrills come courtesy of their fellow circus artists, including rhythmic gymnast Elena Gatilova, whose transformation from caterpillar cleaning lady into butterfly aerialist provides the show's most touching moments.
While married trapeze artists Samuel Sion and Sylvia Friedman, of Evanston, combine strength and elegance in a romantic aerial adagio act, the spirited Anastasini Brothers define sibling collaboration. Their body juggling stopped the show.
Rounding out the ensemble is juggler Gamal David Garcia and acrobat Domitil Aillot, who perform their antics up close and personal. Diners sitting near the stage be aware the performers may commandeer your table and/or enlist you in their high jinks.
Christine Joly de Lotbiniere designed the sumptuous costumes and Shauna Frazier designed the zany set pieces, which include a golden chariot for Caesar and a cheesecake delivery contraption that operated almost perfectly.
The dinner/show, directed by Norman Langill, runs about three hours. It could use some tightening. Several bits, including some of the audience-involved shtick, go on too long.
Even so, in "Love, Chaos & Dinner," Teatro ZinZanni's engaging entertainers and world-class artist/athletes serve up a most delightful dish.
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Location: Spiegeltent ZaZou at the Cambria Hotel Chicago, 14th floor, 32 W. Randolph St., Chicago, (312) 488-0900 or zinzanni.com
Showtimes: 7 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; noon and 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; through Sept. 29
Running time: About 3 hours including dinner
Parking: Paid lots nearby
Rating: For adults; contains mature subject matter and sexual innuendo