By Misha Berson
Seattle Times theater critic
Ooh la la, and then some.
“Bonsoir Liliane!,” the charming new show at Teatro ZinZanni, is something of a departure for Seattle’s ongoing dinner-cabaret outfit.
It has a specific destination — a nostalgic, romanticized Paris of gendarmes and chansons, of gilded cabarets and midnight rendezvous and toujour l’amour.
“Bonsoir Liliane!” is also famed Broadway director-performer Tommy Tune’s loving valentine to the undisputed star of the show, the actress-singer Liliane Montevecchi, who, still spry and sexy after nearly eight decades, is a living embodiment of the City of Light.
Despite her Tony-honored Broadway performance in “Nine,” her film turns (notably, in “Daddy Long Legs” with Fred Astaire), and her previous headlining gigs with ZinZanni and upscale nightclubs, Montevecchi is not exactly a household name here.
But the show, loosely constructed as an Orient Express train ride to Paris and India, introduces and celebrates this eternal gamine with the stylishness expected from Tune, whose atmospheric Broadway hits range from “Grand Hotel” to “The Will Rogers Follies.”
Swathed in one slinky, twinkly gown after another, the petite and vivacious Montevecchi is delightful company.
She recalls her own stint as a ballerina, and as the star chanteuse at the Folies Bergère. In a wispy but confident voice, she croons cabaret classics like “La Vie en Rose” and relative rarities, like Cole Porter’s racy “Si Vous Aimez les Poitrines” (translation: “If You Love Breasts”).
And in a lovely bit, she appears perched on a crescent-moon-shaped swing, as the iconic French clown character, Pierrot.
“Bonsoir Liliane!” also fits in staples of the Teatro experience. There are rousing acrobatic routines from ZinZanni veterans, contortionist Vita Radionova and the boisterous (and French) Les Petits Frères.
There is a kind of master of ceremonies (lanky, amiable Tobias Larsson). And there is the inimitable jester Kevin Kent, still a quick-quipping whiz at working hapless audience members into outrageous gender-bender stunts.
What is new here, beside the Parisian glam and je ne sais quoi, is the inclusion of classical ballet.
Supple, striking Ariana Lallone, a longtime featured dancer with Pacific Northwest Ballet, has a pair of numbers where the Tune touch is magical.
One is a dramatic “red swan” dance (spun off “The Black Swan” film) performed entirely at a barre on a tiny lifted stage.
The other: Lallone, wearing a diaphanous white gown with winglike sleeves, wafts and whirls in the lights like a silken moth fluttering around a multihued flame. Based on Loie Fuller’s pioneering modern dances (a Paris sensation in the early 1900s), it takes your breath away.
Tune also makes good use of his Triplets of Bellevue (get it?), the Andrew Sisters-esque singing trio Diva and the Dixies.
If anything, the show has so much going for it (including a lively Bollywood number), that an extra breather or two, and perhaps a light trim, are in order.
But it seems fated that, in an antique cabaret tent long ago christened The Moulin Rouge, “Bonsoir Liliane!” would take you on a trip to a mythical Paris. And thanks to director and star, what a bon voyage it is!