Frank Ferrante's wily emcee takes center stage as Teatro ZinZanni returns
When Teatro ZinZanni suspended performances of "Love, Chaos & Dinner" in March 2020, nine months after the cabaret/cirque hybrid opened in Chicago's Cambria Hotel, the actors, musicians, comedians and circus artists who made up the cast found themselves out of jobs.
That's when Frank Ferrante, who plays Caesar, the glib and witty emcee, got busy.
The Teatro ZinZanni veteran pivoted online, performing 45-minute sets consisting of songs, stories and comedy bits. Channeling his Teatro ZinZanni alter-ego, Ferrante produced and starred in "All Hail Caesar: An American Love Story," a YouTube variety show and travelogue featuring appearances by Joan Baez, Joey Fatone of NSYNC and YouTube personality Puddles the Clown among others. Lastly, he and the director of his one-man show, "An Evening with Groucho," in which Ferrante played the titular funnyman, edited the show's film version.
Beginning this week, Ferrante returns to Teatro ZinZanni's crimson-colored, chandelier-lit Spiegeltent ZaZou to reprise the role of the suave, mischievous Caesar in the show that is among the first indoor productions to resume here following the pandemic-related shutdown.
"It's so delightful and affirming," Ferrante said. "The joy of being around colleagues in this great theater city is a thrill."
"In some ways, it's like starting all over again," said Ferrante of the show, which had been open only about eight months when the coronavirus pandemic forced it and every other Chicago-area production to close.
Ferrante said the pandemic affect him profoundly, "in ways I've yet to discover."
At 58, he's spent most of his adult life on the road. The shutdown gave him an opportunity to spend time with his children and his mother and engage in a little introspection.
"You really appreciate the simple things," he said. "We have only a (short time) on the planet and I don't want to waste any of it."
Ferrante is eager to return to the gastro-theatrical production, which he first experienced 20 years ago in San Francisco. He recalls being mesmerized by the show, which has been a major part of his professional life having logged more than 1,500 performances as The Caesar in venues around the world.
Rooted in improvisation, his performance requires him to establish a rapport with the audience.
"My job is to observe, absorb and comment in a humorous way," said Ferrante, who performed in suburbs including Skokie, Aurora, Elgin and Glen Ellyn but had never played Chicago until Teatro ZinZanni opened there in 2019.
"It's exciting and exhilarating to conjure new material, new jokes and new bits for an audience," said the actor who, after 37 years improvising, has a good sense of which audience members are willing to play and which ones would rather be left alone.
For those emerging from 16 months of coronavirus-imposed isolation, a Teatro ZinZanni show -- with its zaniness and vaudeville-inspired whimsy -- is an ideal antidote, according to Ferrante.
"This is an immersive experience," he said. "You're completely taken away."
"I don't think you can find a better time."
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When: Performances resume Thursday, July 8. Showtimes are 7 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and noon and 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Spiegeltent ZaZou in the Cambria Hotel, 32 W. Randolph St., Chicago
Tickets: $69 without meal; $119-$189 with four-course meal. (312) 488-0900 or zinzanni.com/chicago
COVID-19 precautions: Guests will undergo a temperature check and screening upon admission. Guests may be required to wear a face covering and physical distancing may be required. Only guests from the same party will be seated at the same table.