|Thelma Houston in Teatro ZinZanni‚Äôs Hearts on Fire. PHOTO BY MICHAEL DOUCETT
Teatro ZinZanni‚Äôs Hearts on Fire, their 10th anniversary show featuring disco‚Äôs soulfully-divine Thelma Houston as Madame ZinZanni, is another successful, celebratory-incarnation of ‚ÄúLove, Chaos & Dinner.‚ÄĚ Teatro ZinZanni consistently offers an abundant international smorgasbord of entertainment, a juicy pastiche of bawdy groan-a-rific puns, Euro-Cirque physical comedy, a dash of Vaud-lesque-Funhouse-meets-Beach Blanket-whack-a-doodle, all served up with one of the tastiest five-course meals in town. But this special Houston-enhanced version will disappear into the fog on May 16, 2010. In other words, put this down and call for tickets. Now.
Arrive ahead of time. The ‚ÄúSpeak-Easy-Meets-Swank-Bordello‚ÄĚ atmosphere demands you leave the outside world... outside. Nicole, a vivacious, bodacious ma√ģtre ‚Äėdame with a smile bigger than her, uhm, bugle-beaded corset, warmly welcomes attendees. Imbibe a libation while milling through the parlor boutique brimming with feathers and sparkles and hats (oh, my!), all reasonably priced (lush ostrich feather boa $20; stylish fedora $13; having the time-of-your-life playing dress up‚Ä¶ priceless).
There is no real plot, per se, save for their overriding ‚ÄúLove, Chaos & Dinner‚ÄĚ motif. In this version, El Vez (the love child of Charo & Elvis), kicks it off with charm and cajones to spare in a costume (by Beaver Bauer of American Conservatory Theatre) of purple-and-orange sequined lam√© guaranteed to dazzle. Or blind. His schtick is full of malaprops (‚Äúwhen the moon is in the second house, and Jupiter has changed its name to Lars‚ÄĚ), putting the Zany in the Zanni.
Thelma Houston appears as a glamorous voodoo high-priestess version of Madame ZinZanni, singing into the mouth of a microphoned python. Magic is the framework the 3¬Ĺ hour evening is built upon, as Houston wickedly belts ‚ÄúI Got My Mojo Working.‚ÄĚ Rachel DeShon, the golden-voiced coloratura soprano-bird-in-the-gilded-cage, soars while a cast of characters ‚ÄĒ all insanely talented ‚Äď swirl-about, never playing their hand until you least expect it.
What appears to be a pack of jokers is a stacked deck of the most flexible, versatile talents under one roof short of that blue-and-yellow tent from Canada.
The real heart, soul and funny-bone of the show is Christine Deaver, aka ‚ÄúPenelope Wild, the Zeitgest of ZinZanni.‚ÄĚ Entering on a motorcycle (yes, a motorcycle), this Acid-Flashback-Test-Tube-Babe from the genetic material of Val Diamond, Dame Edna and Kathy Kinney stops the show. Zaftig never looked so fine as she describes herself as ‚ÄúThe Ghost of Christmas Present‚Ä¶ with cleavage.‚ÄĚ
Les Petits Fr√®res display astounding pratfalls and outrageous physical comedy. One gent redefines pole dancing (must be seen to be believed!). These three will wow you with feats of balance, daring and skillful vaudevillian-flavored pranks. And speaking of pranks, no one in the audience is safe from any of these three jokesters or Deaver. The audience participation is the type one gleefully dreads they‚Äôll be a part of.
And what‚Äôs a dinner show without glorious food? Executive Chef Patrick Fassino melds old-world savory with new-world flavor profiles for a table-silencing service (save for the sensual moans from all). The menu is too good to describe here (go to love.zinzanni.org).
For some, the $117-$195 price tag for ZinZanni‚Äôs dinner shows might seem steep. But add it up ‚ÄĒ a nice dinner ($175-$200), two tickets to a touring musical ($200), and a cabaret nightcap ($40), and suddenly ZinZanni is not only affordable, it is the choice for special celebrations or a night on the town. Every four months, the show changes, with a new theme and Madame of the House. Tony Award-winner Liliane Montevecchi is up next.
Teatro Zinzanni is a mesmerizing extravaganza, filled with heavenly culinary delights and packed with one helluva good time. There‚Äôs nothing else like it in the Bay Area. Nothing.
Teatro ZinZanni‚Äôs Hearts on Fire continues until May 16 at Pier 29 on the Embarcadero, San Francisco. For tickets call (415) 438-2668 or at love.zinzanni.org.