ParentMap Theater Review: “Big Top Rock” at Teatro ZinZanni

By John Kubalak

Big Top Rock at Teatro ZinZanni is the perfect venue for the bands of Seattle’s Kindiependent music collective, and the sold-out Oct. 8 show with Johnny Bregar & the Country Dawgs and Recess Monkey was a thoroughly captivating trifecta of fun. There are two more shows in the series, coming up on Oct. 15 (Caspar Babypants and The Harmonica Pocket) and Oct. 22 (The Not-Its! and The Board of Education), and I highly recommend you check them out. Underscore highly.

The event kicks off with a carnival staged in the Teatro ZinZanni lobby. Though the carnival portion is open to everyone, you need to purchase tickets for the show in advance or risk being shut out. While the experience of navigating the carnival in a space that can’t comfortably accommodate the audience and activities is overwhelming, the kids will have fun because everyone’s a winner at the games. It also helps that the carnival swag is decent.

If you haven’t been to Teatro ZinZanni, the décor is impressive in its over-the-top old-world theatricality. Equal parts cabaret, gypsy tent, and bordello (but in a G-rated kind of way in this context!), you can easily imagine you’ve walked into the Moulin Rouge at the turn of the 20th century. Moving from the lobby to the antique Belgian spiegeltent that houses the main performance space, it struck me that this could well be the Grand Ole Opry of Seattle’s kindiependent music scene.

Another benefit of the musicians partnering with Teatro ZinZanni is that the whole experience is presented within the wrapper of a ZinZanni performance. The ringmaster kicks off the show by setting up a simple narrative that is carried throughout the performance and provides an opportunity for ZinZanni’s aerialists and jugglers to knock the audience’s socks off. The storyline and action provide seamless entertainment bridging between one band and the next through the intermission, keeping the under-10 set transfixed.

Not to be outdone, the bands provide the heartbeat of the show with music that is a pleasure to hear for both young and old. I’m sure Raffi is a very nice man, but seriously, dude, throw the parents a bone! True all-ages appeal is where Seattle’s kindiependent music scene really shines. I’ve heard “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” so many times I just want to push them all off, but it was impressive to see how Johnny Bregar’s bluesy rendition of the kiddie classic brought the ankle-biting mosh pit spontaneously to its feet. Despite the Country Dawgs’ impressive musicianship and thoroughly entertaining set, however, Recess Monkey stole the show by turning the gig into a high-octane dance party.

I was sorry when it ended – I wanted more of everything. From what I know about the other bands that will be appearing on upcoming dates, this will continue to be a can’t-miss ticket. I hope that Big Top Rock becomes a regular event – it is a worthy idea that deserves to live on.

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