The dinner theater revue known as Teatro ZinZanni got its start more than 20 years ago in Seattle, where it launched as a self-described “Moulin Rouge meets Cirque du Soleil,” and since then it’s existed in various iterations around Seattle and San Francisco. As of this month, the show sets up shop for an essentially permanent run (their agreement is for 10 years) in a new home thousands of miles from its origins, where it hopes to become a staple on the Chicago theater scene for locals and tourists alike. Think Tony and Tina’s Wedding or the ever-revolving shows at The Second City, entertainment that became as much an institution in the city as an architecture tour and deep dish pizza.
Housed in a revamped space on the 14th floor of the Cambria Hotel in the Loop (next door to the Nederlander (aka Oriental) Theatre on Randolph Street, the space was originally designed to be a Masonic temple. Guests at Teatro ZinZanni are greeted in the lobby by sequined hostesses ready to escort you up to the scene of the affair, a cavernous space of exposed brick and open rafters above. The experience begins here, as every member of the staff is dolled up in costume and guests are invited to join in with face masks, tiaras and other flashy accessories (all for sale). A cocktail bar on the other side of the maitre’d offers signature drinks (which, it’s worth noting, aren’t included in the three-digit ticket prices; that just gets you dinner and the show).
At the center of it all is Spiegeltent ZaZou, a fully realized circus tent where all the action takes place; booths line the outside of the tent, while tables of various sizes (some for four or two, and even some for eight) fill in the rest of the space around the central stage. And when I say fill in, I mean “take up every inch of open space, making it next to impossible for staff, actors and patrons alike to get between and around them.” The official count is something like 300 seats inside the tent, which makes for a pleasantly intimate experience, at least. There are enough fellow audience members to get lost in the crowd, and really not a bad seat in the house for a show that takes place above, around and sometimes right next to you.
And a show is certainly what we get. Dubbed “Love, Chaos and Dinner,” there’s no plot to this cabaret-style experience, though there are a few main characters; Caesar (Frank Ferrante) is our emcee for the night and Rizo (Amelia Zirin-Brown, with killer pipes) plays the saucy, seductive songstress. A goofy, odd-couple duo (Tim Tyler as Mr. P.P. and Joe De Paul as a mini sidekick) provide the (low-brow) laughs throughout, with physical comedy gags ranging from a cracker-eating contest (really) to a bit about King Kong. The highlight of the show, bar none, is the acrobatic acts; Duo Rose (Samuel and Sylvia Rose) perform a steamy, sweet routine on a trapeze bar, while the Anastasini Brothers flip so fast you’ll lose track of their tricks and Elena Gatilova presents a stunner of a solo show. Seeing these insanely fit specimens perform their talents in such close proximity is, in a word, jaw-dropping.
Unfortunately, the overall immersive experience breaks down table side, as support staff charged with serving dinner and all it entails—taking drink orders, clearing plates, etc.—don’t exactly have their act figured out. Despite being incredibly friendly and responsive, it seems as though the servers are still fine-tuning their own choreography. At the table where I sat, drink orders were mixed up more than once, dinners (one gets to select from a few different entree choices, all deliciously catered by Chicago’s Goddess and Grocer) were auctioned off rather than served, and plates sat uncleared for entire courses. It’s perhaps a small complaint in the grand scheme of things, but then again, at a dinner theater, the dinner should be just as well performed as the show.
With their tent solidly pitched at the Cambria for the long haul, Teatro ZinZanni producers intend to update the show every six months or so (indeed, the current program alerts attendees that a new show arrives in early October). Already an entertaining mix of old (Edith Piaf, Cole Porter) and new (Lizzo, for Pete’s sake!), the show’s numbers are (mostly) family friendly with an energy set to eleven. Though the acrobats, jugglers, jokesters and magicians may change over time, the production (with a little help in the dinner service department) is well-equipped to become a mainstay on Chicago’s entertainment scene, perfect for folks looking for an alternative to (or just not interested in) some of the city’s more refined theatrical offerings.
Tickets to Teatro ZinZanni are currently on sale through September 29, ranging in price from $99-$189 (which includes dinner and the show; drinks and gratuity extra). For more information and tickets, visit Teatro ZinZanni online here.
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