Love, Chaos & Dinner by Dan Zeff
Chicago – Teatro ZinZanni has clearly passed its initial test as a bright new bulb on the downtown Chicago entertainment marquee. The elaborate dinner theater opened in early April and has already announced an extension through March 29. I suspect the producers have their eye on an open run, and based on the large and enthusiastic audience at my performance, their expectations should be realized.
Teatro ZinZanni subtitles its show “Love, Chaos & Dinner,” a concise summary of what patrons can expect during the three-hour presentation. The show is a hybrid of music, comedy, circus acts, and a four course meal. The theater, which seats about 330, is located on the 14th floor of the Cambria Hotel in the heart of the Loop. Audiences watch the show from tables in the Spiegeltent ZaZou, a circular Belgian mirror tent decorated with historic bits and pieces to give the space a 19th century Henri Toulouse Lautrec flavor.
Teatro ZinZanni originated on the West Coast in 1998 and the producers had been looking for a suitable location in Chicago. They found it when a large, forgotten space was discovered in 2017 when the hotel, built in 1926, was being renovated. The theater now includes a large bar, a souvenir shop, and a spacious lobby. Patrons ride up to the 14th floor in elevators reserved for the show.
Teatro Zinzanni is aimed at patrons who just want to have fun. At my performance, the customers clearly arrived primed to have a good time and the performers went to extravagant lengths to satisfy their wishes. The performance trades on slapstick and sometimes slightly risqué comedy with a strong emphasis on audience participation. If that isn’t to your taste, be forewarned and just hope you are not pulled from your seat to participate in broad hi jinks administered by the master of ceremonies
I saw the production a week before a major cast change, but the changes are in the spirit of the previous production, a mix of circus acts and ostentatiously unbsubtle humor. The major change is the departure of Frank Ferrante as the manic master of ceremonies. Ferrante has been with Teatro Zinzanni for nearly 20 years. I saw him in the Seattle production several years ago and it’s hard to imagine a production without his nonstop energy, shtick, and improv wit. But presumably replacement Kevin Hart will fill the bill as the show’s driving force.
There will be new circus type acts to accompany holdover acrobat Domitil Aillot, tumblers the Anastasini brothers, and hoop aerialist Elena Gatilova. The two chief vocalists also remain. Kelly Britt performs numbers from Puccini and Leonard Bernstein with opera stage quality. Rizo (aka Amelia Zirin-Brown) sings up a storm as a cabaret chanteuse, flaunting her abundant physical charms with double entendres that make the mind reel. The variety acts are all first class, with some artists descending from the ceiling to perform above the circular stage in the middle of the theater. With the recent and lamented demise of the Ringling Brothers circus it’s gratifying to enjoy quality specialty acts in such a professional local outlet.
The performance flows without stop from beginning to end. If nature abhors a vacuum, Teatro ZinZanni abhors quiet. There is nonstop bustle from the performers, the waiters, and the small pit orchestra. The production strives to ensure there is never a dull moment and never flags both on stage and among the tables. This is as an accommodating a show as any ticket buyer could hope for. Unforced friendliness abounds from every employee, from the elevator custodian to the star performers. It all makes for an unapologetic love-in between staff and visitor.
The meal begins with a humus appetizer awaiting the customers as they take their seats. There is a leafy salad, followed by a choice of one of five entries, concluding with a cheesecake and carmelcorn dessert. My table ordered the chicken breast and the salmon. We pronounced the meal satisfactory rather than exceptional but the portions certainly were filling. “Love, Chaos & Dinner” presents itself as a one-price-for the evening package, but there are add-ons, like coffee or tea, rolls, and beverages that will impact on the final bill. But judging from what I saw among the tables around me, price was no impediment to the gleeful consumption of significant quantities of alcohol.
‘Grease’ gets a star rating:.
Teatro ZinZanni runs through March 29 at the Cambria Hotel, 32 West Randolph Street. Performances are Wednesday through Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at noon and 7 p.m. Tickets are $99 to $189. Call (312) 488-0900 or visit zinzanni.com/chicago.