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Review: Teatro ZinZanni zips 'Love, Chaos & Dinner' to the table

Critic's Choice

November 09, 2012|By David C. Nichols
  • Kevin Kent, as the Queen of Hearts, is one of the Teatro Zinzanni performers at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa.
Kevin Kent, as the Queen of Hearts, is one of the Teatro Zinzanni performers… (Tracy Martin / Segerstrom…)

Federico Fellini and Toulouse-Lautrec meet Garrison Keillor and Wolfgang Puck by way of Bricktop and Bob Fosse in Teatro ZinZanni's "Love, Chaos & Dinner,” now catapulting its way around the collective id of Costa Mesa. This latest high-concept spectacle from the iconoclastic company serves up an immersive, uniquely enchanting theatrical repast.

This is only suspiciously evident on arrival at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, where the plaza has been overtaken by an antique spiegeltent (mirror tent). After entering this fabulous Belgian artifact, any doubts that we’re in another dimension evaporate.

A circus-ring platform centers the lushly mirrored, velvet-and-mahogany-laden environs, where Max Ophuls would feel entirely at home. Festive servers take our dinner orders as droll archetypes deftly work the room.

Amid the cocktails, conversation and ballroom tunes, a clinking triangle signals that “The Big Broadcast of Radio TZ” is upon us. With composer Norman Durkee’s jaunty theme song and Brett Nugent’s frisky choreography, the entire crew, including the servers, takes flight, and takes us with them.

The destination turns out to be a wondrous phantasmagoria, equal parts European cabaret, risqué cirque and gourmet blowout. It spans three fleet hours, five delectable courses by Patina Catering and innumerable surprises, many involving audience participation and menu incorporation, that I wouldn’t dream of revealing. Acrobatics and era-vaulting standards, juggling and aerialist feats, vaudeville shtick and high camp swirl into a glittering mélange, fueled by an extraordinary troupe of international artistes.

As chanteuse Queenie B. Goode, the titian-haired Duffy Bishop morphs Ruth Etting, Kay Thompson and Janis Joplin. Kevin Kent attacks his multiple roles, from program sponsor Dr. Dan Delight (whose tonic turns up repeatedly) to Boy Spy of the North Atlantic to two indescribable queens, with a bravado that wouldn’t shame Charles Ludlam.

But wait, there’s more! For instance, statuesque Manuela Horn, whose Brigitte Longstraumph goes from yodeling Shirley Temple to a dominatrix who could give Bettie Page pause. Also, versatile Juliana Rambaldi, her squeaky jingle singer Veronica seamlessly transforming into rich-voiced diva Veronique.

Rubber-faced Joel Salom imbues emcee Mac McReady with crackerjack timing, ambidextrous expertise and astounding balance. Particularly in pursuit of lovely Vita Radionova, who as intergalactic Venus raises hula hoops and contortionism to show-stopping heights.

So do maître d' Gregory Marquet, flunky Mickael Bajazet and janitor Domitil Aillot, i.e., Les Petits Fréres, as jaw-dropping a trio of gravity-defying dancer-acrobats as I’ve ever seen. And the marvelous Sabine Maier and Yogi Mohr give their respective deadpan maid and jovial techie a riotous courtship involving a trapeze, a ladder and a purse that defies analysis and the laws of physics.

Under the inspired direction of Norman Langill, who founded Teatro ZinZanni in Seattle in 1998, this is artful artlessness of the highest order. Musical director Hans Teuber masters everything from Benny Goodman to Jimi Hendrix, which the righteous orchestra --  Rob Levy (piano), Karl Theobold (horns), Evan Stone (drums) and the awesome Chris Carlson (guitar/announcer) incinerates.

The designs are magnificent, with Beaver Bauer’s costumes, Mark Hueske’s lighting and Mike McCann’s sound all hallucinatory, as is the way food and drink are woven into content. An obvious corollary is Cirque du Soleil, but the company’s disciplined lunacy, intimate assurance and audience regard are nearer to Troubadour Theatre Company’s rock-commedia-Shakespeare mash-ups, Ken Roht’s 99-Cent-Only Store collaborations and Dame Edna Everage’s career.

Because finally Teatro ZinZanni occupies a realm all its own -- no wonder the San Francisco edition ran for years -- and it’s a potent blast of pure communal exhilaration. Run, don’t walk.

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Teatro ZinZanni's "Love, Chaos & Dinner," Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, noon and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 31. Tickets start at $122.85. (714) 556-2787 or www.SCFTA.org. Running time: 3 hours.

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