It’s obvious, as soon as we sit down across from her in the café and she starts talking: Melanie Stace, our current Madame ZinZannia, is clearly smitten.
“There’s something magical that happens every night at Teatro ZinZanni – it just opens everything for up for me as a performer,” says the raven-haired 30-something performer. “The audience interaction, the intimacy of the tent, the sense of wonderment and anticipation. Everyone is very charming – they want to tell me how much fun they’re having, they introduce me to their family. They tell me that they feel like they’ve been part of a private party at somebody’s place.”
This is Melanie’s second time in Seattle and her fourth engagement with Teatro ZinZanni. She came into the “Hail, Caesar!” show at our tent in San Francisco in July, 2006.
“I like Seattle, the weather reminds me of London. I’m the bikini-and-umbrella type,” laughs Melanie. “It was actually snowing on the day I arrived in March. That was a bit much.”
But coming back to Seattle was a warmly welcomed event, snow or not.
“Last April, after a seven month run with Teatro ZinZanni, I felt bereft and blue once I got home. Every day, though, there was some kind of message or connection from Teatro ZinZanni. A call from Reenie (Teatro ZinZanni’s associate artistic director) or a text from Peter Pitofsky (fellow cast member). Something kept at me so I was glad to come back.”
The show gives her an opportunity to do all the things she likes to do – singing and dancing – and to try something new. For example: flying up on the moon up into the middle of the tent at the finale (“I’ve never done that before in my life!”)
“I also get to do magic. My grandfather was a magician and my grandmother was his assistant so there’s something quite right about it.”
Known as a triple threat performer because she can dance and sing and act, Melanie has performed in London’s West End as Louise in Gypsy, Sally in Follies, Lola in Barry Manilow’s Copacabana, April in the Olivier Award-winning tap musical Hot Shoe Shuffle, and Polly Baker in the Tony Award-winning Gershwin musical Crazy For You. A well-known TV personality, Melanie was co-host of the popular BBC prime time Saturday night TV show, The Generation Game for six years.
Teatro ZinZanni is an opportunity to combine all her talents as well as collaborate on the show content.
“I get to sing while the audience dances, like a 40s bandstand singer with the mirror ball spinning and I’m wearing an incredible gown. It’s amazing watching everyone – there are people who haven’t danced together in 20 years or people who are holding each other for the first time. I say, ‘Gentleman, ask your wives, girlfriends, boyfriends to dance – all three of them if you like!’ and people just love it.”
Melanie has been entertaining a non-stop flow of visiting family and friends since “A Suitcase Named Desire” opened in March. Her brother, writer and singer John Wesley Harding, is coming in soon with her niece Tilda who is now two years old. Her mother and stepfather came in already and her father is coming next week. John, her partner and husband, comes in after that.
Despite the non-stop shifts of visiting family and friends and the demands of the show, Melanie still finds time to work on her second album of all original material. She’s got eight tracks so far and is shooting for 12.
“Right now I’m working on a west coast vibe. Everything influences everything and the collaborative nature of our show at Teatro ZinZanni has made my work on my album richer. I’m a lyric-driven person. Norm Langill, our director, had me write my own lines,” explains Melanie. “My work becomes more multi-dimensional as I get older, I used to just want to be in the shows, now I want to create more and more. All in all right now my life is very creatively satisfying.
“Teatro ZinZanni time seems to go very fast so I try to savor every minute,” smiles Melanie. “I go around the tent systematically before the show starts (also looking for victims!) and ask people if they’ve been to the tent before, many people are guests of return guests. I get a little jealous of them, knowing that it’s their very first time since it’s so special.
“You know, it’s constant progress with each show,” she laughs. “What’s not to love!”