I spent last Sunday night in a tent with my mother to celebrate her birthday. It wasn't just any old tent, but this gorgeous, antique “spiegeltent,"- the grandeur and charm of it can't be envisioned from its outside appearance. Once inside, we had well-made cocktails at the bar- that's right, the tent has a bar in it, which is lovely of course. After we had our drinks we were ushered into another tent, with a large performance space in the center of it surrounded by round tables, at which hundreds of people were already busily having fun amongst themselves. We were seated next to a delightful couple, and were soon joined by another.
More drinks arrived and then my mother pulled a bottle of Raffanelli ZinZanni from her purse, since it was her birthday. And then all hell broke loose. Well, not really. What actually followed was three-plus hours of some of the best entertainment I've experienced in years and a fantastic five course meal. I don't remember the last time I've laughed that much and just plain enjoyed a show as much as I did this one.
So why hadn't I ever gone to Teatro ZinZanni before? Oh, this reason and that to be sure, but I also had it in my head it would be a touristy thing- kind of like Beach Blanket Babylon, which I always enjoy when I go, but BBB is not a show I really think about seeing unless someone asks me (usually my mother) - which seems to happen once every year or two.
Now if you had told me to imagine the love child of BBB and Trannyshack raised by Kurt Weill and PT Barnum I would have immediately said "Yes! When do we go!?" But no one ever told me it was like that so I never went. Now I'm telling you, so you have no excuse not to go see it.
Again, it was my mother who wanted to go see Teatro Zinzanni. She's been asking me for years and now I feel that certain pang of the Jewish son's guilt that I waited so long to make this happen. We''ll be back though- guaranteed. And the next time it will be me asking her if she wants to go.
The current version of the show, which runs through March 4th, is called License to Kiss II, A Sweet Conspiracy. Why? I honestly don't remember and to tell the truth it really doesn't matter. The plot, which has to do with creating the perfect sweet, is really just the frame for three hours of hilarious gags, well-performed songs, acrobatics, drag, cabaret, dancing, and live music. During the evening a delicious meal is served that's choreographed to the show and delivered by the cast with stunning execution.
And the cast is terrific. The uproariously delightful Kevin Kent is the star, but there's tremendous talent throughout the show: aerialist Kari Podgorsky, acrobat Andrea Conway Doba was a huge hit, as was Wayne Doba. Lutz Jope was a vision of Rocky Horror's Riff Raff all these years (and bottles) later. Sweden's Tobias Larsson, as the closest thing to the show's ringmaster, has a serious Adam Lambert kind of thing going on (and that's a good thing, in case you were wondering). My favorite though, was soprano Kristen Clayton, who's appeared with numerous opera companies. She came out toward the end of the evening and just floored me.
After March 4th, a new show will arrive, and if you can't make it to this one I strongly recommend you catch the next. This is a great show for locals and tourists alike- the local lady sitting next us to was there for her third time and I overheard numerous people make similar comments as we were at the bar.
There are often tickets available on Goldstar.
One last thing. Recently it was learned the company is likely to be displaced by the whole America's Cup giveaway/boondoggle. So I wanted to give you some inside information you may not know. Over the past decade, TZ has welcomed more than 1,000,000 guests into the tent. In addition to the regular performances, they have helped organizations raise more than $2,000,000 for charitable causes by providing the tent and services at cost. Organizations who have hosted fundraisers include Sean Penn’s Haitian Relief Organization, Huckleberry House, Bread and Roses, Suicide Prevention League, Chez Panisse Foundation, San Francisco Symphony, and more. This is over and above the thousands of tickets they have donated to countless silent and live auctions, etc. It's not only a great theater company, but like many of the best arts organizations in San Francisco, this is a non-profit arts institution.
In addition to a series of incoming international performers, there is a core group of “performers” who serve as managers, maitre ‘d’s, box office, bartenders, wait staff, etc. Many of these employees joined the Company for what they thought was a temporary job in March of 2000. Ten years later they are a real family – so losing Teatro would be so much more than just losing the show – it would break up this incredible family of employees committed to creating the zany world of ZinZanni through service, or cooking, etc. Anyway, it would be a shame to lose these arts and service jobs in service of….creating jobs and revenue for America’s Cup and billionaire Larry Ellison. The news on the move is this: the city is working closely with Teatro ZinZanni to explore all options and have also been in touch with America’s Cup Organizers to explore any natural tie-ins. The City seems committed to keeping ZinZanni in San Francisco.