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Teatro ZinZanni continues with Maestro’s Menagerie
by Milton W. Hamlin – SGN A&E Writer

Maestro’s Menagerie Teatro ZinZanni Through August 29

The zany humor that is the trademark of Teatro ZinZanni, the long-running European-styled cabaret revue and dinner theater at the Seattle Center, is the focus in the newest ZinZanni outing, Maestro’s Menagerie, continuing through August 29 in the historic ‘spiegeltent.’ The spiegeltent, literally “mirror tent,” is named the Moulin Rouge and is, itself, celebrating its 100th anniversary.

Maestro’s Menagerie, subtitled “A Mesmerizing Melange of Trickery and Illusion,” certainly lives up to its title. The traditional ZinZanni five-course dinner, designed by Seattle celebrity chef Tom Douglas, is as good as ever, with some selections exceeding expectations (which are already high for ZinZanni regulars).

For the current show, Douglas and the ZinZanni chefs start with an appetizer in place as patrons are seated. This delightful plate contains a French country pork paté with pistachio salt, a selection of olives, and crisp cornichons, delightful mini-pickles that offer a perfect contrast to the rich paté.

Each course is served between the show’s mixture of clowns, acrobats, magicians, and singers (pop and classical). The waitstaff is carefully choreographed for each entrance of the menu selections – one waiter is a talented actor who actually often headlines in shows at the 5th Avenue and other musical theaters. It all adds to the fun and truly makes the evening something special.

The three-hour dinner and cabaret show are well-paced. Seating starts at 6 p.m. for evening performances, which begin promptly at 7 p.m. The ZinZanni orchestra starts the show. Songs, skits, specialty acts introduce the cast and the concept, with a break at about 7:30 p.m. for the “creamy, dreamy asparagus and leek soup, dressed with a real pepper cream” garnish. Then comes more entertainment and the entrance of the entrée choices. For the current edition of the long running hit – termed “the hottest ticket in town” by the New York Times several years back – diners have three choices for the entrée.

This scribe and his guest took the recommendation of the ZinZanni PR director and opted for the filet of beef. Cooked to perfection (the ZinZanni kitchen was able to successfully prepare one filet rare and one well done with no apparent problem – a rarity in many downtown restaurants), the steaks exceeded expectations. Grilled halibut received raves at a neighboring table, and the mushroom strata, the vegetarian selection, was also highly praised.The entertainment for this edition is the usual mix of European headliners and U.S. talent.

Francine Reed, a powerful African American blues singer – best known for her backup and duet work with headliners like Lyle Lovett, Miles Davis, Etta James, and Smokey Robinson – rattles the ZinZanni rafters with powerful versions of “Send In The Clowns,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” and other terrific selections. Juliana Rambaldi, termed a “bright-voiced beacon” by The New Yorker magazine, is a Seattle resident with a long history of operatic leads in Europe and the U.S. Her opera selections were musical highlights of the evening.

Veronin, the single-named Ukraine illusionist, returns to Seattle and gives the current show its title character. His stage nickname – “The Maestro” – is fitting. He has appeared with ZinZanni 21 times since the original Seattle show in 1998. He is a major star on the European cabaret circuit.

Other impressive performers include Elena Borodina, a Russian hand balancer. She is an amazing athlete who is noted for turning a gymnastic staple into a true work of art. The Collins Brothers, a Berlin duo who are not named Collins and are not brothers, are master trapeze artists and (like most of the cast) sublime comedians. Peter Pitofsky, who has been a ZinZanni regular since 2002, is a glorious circus clown who teams with other cast members – male and female – in a memorable Pitofsky “Brothers” acrobatic routine. (Pitofsky was evidentially distracted as this reviewer scribbled notes and frantically tried to find the biographies of the “brothers” in the ZinZanni program – he stalked over and tore the pamphlet out of my hands, threw it on the table, and mockingly sneered, “read at home.” The audience, always on their toes, roared with laughter. Quick-witted fun is always on hand at ZinZanni.)

Throughout the evening, the wide-eyed Svetlana, the single-named Russian contortionist, charmed the audience with her reoccurring role as the puppet doll who comes to life – regulars at Pacific Northwest Ballet will be reminded of the recent performance of Coppella with a similar title character. Her amazing performance remains vivid a week after the show.

Ukrainian juggler Sergiy Krutikov, the talented and Canadian Ssens Duo, and magician Brandon Rabe, a native Hawaiian whose grandfather was a New Orleans riverboat gambler, add to the memorable moments.

A few more tips about the evening’s fine food: All selections were beautifully presented with appropriate accompaniments – mashed potatoes with the beef, rice with the fish, etc.

ZinZanni has recently added some a la carte items to the planned five-course menu. Sautéed shitake mushrooms seemed to be a popular addition. Fans of the old standby “surf and turf” could add a filet, at $9.95, to the halibut plate. An artisan cheese sampler gives diners the cheese course if so desired.

A full bar and extensive wine selections add a festive element for many patrons. A $39 “wine flight” added a preselected wine to each course in the preplanned menu. Wines by the glass, starting at $7, or by the bottle, soaring to $350 for select champagnes, can turn this “special night out” into a truly unforgettable outing.

As the time sped by, dessert (a tangy lemon bar with fresh berries) arrived at 9:40 p.m. The finale, with Reed and the cast singing “When You’re Smiling,” found the clock at 9:50 p.m. The final curtain at 9:52 – with a boost from Maestro Norman Durkee and the Orchestra DeVille – found the near-capacity audience in broad smiles – just like in the song. After a quick pause in the Teatro gift shop, we were back on the street, in the car and headed home shortly after 10 p.m. Certainly a night to remember.

Ticket information on all ZinZanni performances and events is available at (206) 802-0015 or at Tickets are certainly expensive, but lower-priced brunch performances on select weekends can limit the cost. Considering that the three-hour ZinZanni experience includes a five-course dinner and a first-class show, the night is truly a festive celebration and totally unlike anything else in town. Check it out.

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