ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

In Cirque du Soleil’s “Amaluna,” it’s the women who astound—through January 12, 2014, under the Grand Chapiteau, AT&T Park, through January 12, 2014

“Amaluna’s” most evocative performance comes from the Balance Goddess (Lara Jacobs) who  builds a 45 pound Calder-like mobile from thirteen huge palm leaf ribs that are held in balance by the weight of a feather.  Costume credit: Mérédith Caron; Photo: Laurence Labat, Cirque de Soleil

“Amaluna’s” most evocative performance comes from the Balance Goddess (Lara Jacobs) who builds a 45 pound Calder-like mobile from thirteen huge palm leaf ribs that are held in balance by the weight of a feather. Costume credit: Mérédith Caron; Photo: Laurence Labat, Cirque de Soleil

Dazzling, daring, elegant— Cirque du Soleil’s newest touring show, Amaluna, is a celebration of female power that invites the audience to a mysterious island governed by muscle-toned Goddesses and guided by the cycles of the moon.  Amaluna opened last Friday under the Grand Chapiteau at San Francisco’s AT&T Park where it runs through January 12 and then moves on to San Jose on January 22.  If you’re looking for some excitement to stave off the daylight savings/winter time blues, Amaluna is well worth crossing the bridge for.  It features an enthralling combination of art and agility-testing acrobatics that involve legs and arms and whole bodies being supported in unnatural positions by nothing more than a long rung of twisted rope, a thin bar or a fellow human as a pedestal—all beautifully lit and staged.

The poetic title expresses it all, a fusion of the words for “mother” and “moon.”  And while it’s heavy on the XX chromosome, Amaluna is at its core a love story about all forms of love— between family, lovers and friends.

Loosely based on “The Tempest,” Wagner’s “Ring Cycle,” and ancient Greek mythology, Amaluna is directed by Diane Paulus, the talk of the town.  She’s a leading Broadway producer and the artistic director of Harvard University’s American Repertory Theatre, who recently netted a Tony Award for her Broadway revival of “Pippin” and whose Porgy and Bess, which opened at SHN’s Golden Gate Theatre a few days ago, is getting rave reviews.

Amaluna transforms Shakespeare’s wizard Prospero into Shamanic Queen Prospera (Julie McInnes) whose daughter, Miranda, on the brink of womanhood, is her utmost priority.  For kicks though, satin-clad Prospera plays her midnight blue Cello like a rocker from Heart.  You’d never believe that energetic McInnes, a 14-year Cirque veteran, is 52 and played in the orchestra pit in O and Ka, as she owns this stage.

Having been brought up on a remote island where female Goddesses and Amazons use their powers freely, daughter Miranda (contortionist Iuliia Mykhailova) dreams big dreams.  Early in the show, she slowly twists and balances herself impossibly on one arm on a pole on a platform atop a hot tub sized glass water bowl, wearing a bikini that miraculously manages to stay put as she moves through a series of poses that will leave yoga practitioners transfixed.  The tub, alight in green and blue, is just one of Scott Peck’s visually hypnotic sets in this dream-like performance.

Contortionist Iuliia Mykhailova is Miranda is Cirque du Soleil’s “Amaluna.”  After taking a playful swim in a glorious onstage glass waterbowl, she emerges dripping wet in a bikini to balance along the edge of the bowl and bends herself like pretzel into all sorts of shapes.  Talk about abs!   Costume credit: Mérédith Caron; Photo: Laurence Labat, Cirque de Soleil

Contortionist Iuliia Mykhailova is Miranda is Cirque du Soleil’s “Amaluna.” After taking a playful swim in a glorious onstage glass water bowl, she emerges dripping wet in a bikini to balance along the edge of the bowl and bends herself like pretzel into all sorts of shapes. Talk about abs! Costume credit: Mérédith Caron; Photo: Laurence Labat, Cirque de Soleil

When Prospera conjures a fierce sea storm that summons men to their island so that her daughter can come of age, Miranda is smitten with buff Romeo (Evgeny Kurkin).  Romeo sports his strength in an astounding Chinese pole climbing act where he supports himself horizontally in mid-air, making it look effortless, and then releases his grip sliding head down towards the floor only to brake himself inches before impending crash by gripping his legs and stopping cold as if someone had flipped a huge off switch.

But Cali (Victor Kee), after Caliban in The Tempest—Miranda’s friend and confidant before Romeo appeared—is determined to prevent Romeo from winning her.  Half-lizard, half human, Cali sports a huge and creepy alligator tail, dreamed up by costume wizard Mérédith Caron who intentionally labored to give each of her elaborate costumes an emotional resonance as well.  As Cali slithers, preens and twists this phallic tail in every which direction, even juggling balls off of it; we are thoroughly repulsed.

Alas, the path to true love is not an easy one and the couple faces many obstacles along the way which characters, like a trio of dazzling aerial Valkyrie warriors, help subdue.  Cirque performances are known for being more about performance art and less about story.  This is also true of Amaluna, which is being billed as more story-oriented but the actual story arc is pretty hard to follow amidst the spectacle of bodies in motion, gorgeous sets and bold music.  No worries!  It’s all so engrossing that it encourages your mind to create its own internal stories while watching.

The show-stopper was a quiet and meditative moment when Prospera brings Romeo and Miranda to witness the Balance Goddess (Lara Jacobs) ritualistically create a world in equilibrium.  Accompanied by nothing but the sound of her own breath and the beating hearts of the audience, she builds a huge Calder-like mobile from thirteen palm leaf ribs that are all held in balance by the weight of a feather.  Jacobs’ movements are slow, deliberate and almost meditative as she concentrates all her attention on creating this breathtaking 45 pound sculpture before our eyes.  The audience was so enthralled, you could have heard a pin drop…but that’s what great art does, its touches our soul and takes our breath away.  As she removes the smallest piece, everything disintegrates and the young couple’s trials begin.

In “Amaluna’s” daring Teeterboard act, young men launch themselves high into the air, twisting and turning in a playful high-speed attempt to escape from their prison. They pull off several seemingly impossible feats, like landing in a handstand on another performer’s upturned palms.  Costume credit: Mérédith Caron; Photo: Laurence Labat, Cirque de Soleil

In “Amaluna’s” daring Teeterboard act, young men launch themselves high into the air, twisting and turning in a playful high-speed attempt to escape from their prison. They pull off several seemingly impossible feats, like landing in a handstand on another performer’s upturned palms. Costume credit: Mérédith Caron; Photo: Laurence Labat, Cirque de Soleil

Not all of the show is so enthralling.  I could have done without the clowns, especially a ridiculous scene where two clowns fall in love and deliver clown babies on stage which then roll all over the place, even off the stage. Ouch!  Overall though, Amaluna delivers two and a half hours of pure escapism.  Once inside the big top, one’s world changes immediately as the outside world and its worries fade.  The energetic and uplifting vibe starts in the bustling lobby where you are offered peacock feathers and all sorts of treats (which you pay for, except on opening night).  I was delighted with “Tempest,” a delicious special limited edition ice cream flavor developed by Humphry Slocombe and Cirque—crème fraîche-blueberry swirl—which will also be available in-store at Humphry Slocombe (2790 Harrison Street, San Francisco) beginning November 13, 2013 (while supplies last).  The huge main tent has comfortable seating that affords a great view from almost everywhere.  Of course, the sheer physicality of the performance is best enjoyed from as close as possible but no matter where you are, you’ll be dazzled.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes, one intermission

Details: Through January 12, 2014 under the Cirque du Soleil Big Top, AT&T Park, San Francisco; January 22-March 2, 2014 under the Big Top at the Taylor Street Bridge, San Jose.  Tickets: $45-$270. Info: 800-450-1480, www.cirquedusoleil.com

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November 22, 2013 Posted by | Dance, Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Cirque du Soleil’s new “Totem,” Mankind’s Evolution Unfolds…Aided by Crystal Man and a Giant Turtle

The Crystal Man is “Totem’s” connective tissue. He comes from space to spark life on Earth, animating the turtle’s skeleton early in the show, and he closes the show by diving into a lagoon. His costume is comprised of thousands of reflective crystals and when in motion, he becomes a spinning ball of light. Photo: courtesy Cirque du Soleil

With “Totem,” Robert Lepage and Cirque du Soleil again prove they are a match made in heaven.  Lepage’s endless imagination and Cirque’s deep pockets have led to a stunning new production that opened in San Francisco last Friday under the Grand Chapiteau (Big Top) in Cirque’s Village on Wheels near AT&T Park.  Even if you’ve seen a Cirque production lately, this is a show worth seeing with lots that’s new, especially in Lepage’s signature area of technical wizardry.  Inspired by many founding myths, “Totem” loosely traces the human evolutionary journey through a series of mind-blowing specially choreographed acrobatic acts performed by elite athletes in gorgeous costumes.  A backdrop of stunning video projections bring a new dimension to the stage. “Totem,” explains Lepage, “is inspired by the foundation narratives of the first peoples and explores the birth and evolution of the world, the relentless curiosity of human beings and their constant desire to excel.  The word suggests that human beings carry in their bodies the full potential of all living beings, even the Thunderbird’s desire to fly to the top of the Totem.”

“Totem” is Lepage’s second Cirque du Soleil show.  It follows the immensely successful jaw-dropping “,” which took a whopping $165 million to launch and has been running in an enormous 1,951-seat theatre at the MGM Grand since late 2004.  “KÀ” traces the epic journey of Imperial twins who embark on an adventurous journey to fulfill their destinies and is the most technologically sophisticated show I have ever seen.  It features a giant rectangular 150 ton stage that floats and rotates in the air and can pivot from horizontal to vertical and transform into several landscapes, making things like battle scenes come alive as actors scale and rappel a vertical battlefield.  

A giant turtle at centre stage represents the origins of life on earth. Beneath its shell is an effervescent community of amphibians and fish which burst into play as artists embodying frogs launch themselves into the air and Crystal man, tucked tightly into a ball, descends from space to spark life on Earth. Photo: courtesy Cirque du Soleil

For San Francisco audiences, “Totem” also falls right on the heels of Lepage’s highly publicized and controversial production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle at the Metropolitan Opera where some of his ingenious and expensive technology failed to perform as expected.  In the Ring’s first installment, Das Rheingold (September, 2010), the video technology, which was supposed to project imagery on 24 planks operated by a hydraulic system—the 45 ton “Valhalla machine”–failed during the climactic scene in which the Gods walk across a rainbow into Valhalla. That problem was resolved but others emerged in Die Walküre (April, 2011), the second installment, including leading ladies Deborah Voight and Stephanie Blythe both slipping on the planks of the $16 million machinery. “Totem” is not as spectacular as “KÀ,” nor does it carry the weight of Valhalla, but it makes for a wonderfully entertaining afternoon or evening and it is perfect for kids.

 Where “Totem” really excels is in the use of video projection and special effects, all masterminded by Pedro Pires, Image Content designer, in conjunction with Set and Props designer Carl Fillion and Lighting Designer Etienne Boucher.  In “Totem,” the projection screen is a virtual marsh at the rear of the stage.  The images projected are all drawn from nature and Pires shot most of them himself on travels to Iceland, Hawaii and Guatemala.  Throughout the show, these evolve in long mixes or morph to create an ever-changing tableau of gorgeous eye-popping color.  Way way cool factor—infra-red tracking cameras positioned above the stage and around the marsh detect movement and produce kinetic effects that interact with the artists’ movements in real time.  The results are poetic—water flows across beaches, molten lava streams, projected swimmers swim across the stage while real time swimmers emerge at the side.  As performers wade across projected water, projected ripples swell out from under their feet.  

“Totem” is filled with feats of dazzling artistry. Five unicyclists juggle metal bowls in an astounding display of agility, balance, synchronized control and physical grace, tossing the bowls with their feet─sometimes over their shoulders─and catching them on their heads without using their hands. Each unicyclst has their own look but together they form an integrated unit. Photo: courtesy Cirque du Soleil

 Kym Barrett’s creative costumes have ingenious attention to detail and look fabulous on these well-toned athletes.  Barrett explained in the press kit that, in brainstorming with Lepage, the idea was to create a real world that evolved into a fantastical world─from a documentary style to fantasy, keeping the human body and its possible transformations in mind at all times.  Her designs emphasize themes of evolution, nature itself and

In “Totem,” an American Indian performs a narrative dance using hoops to evoke various animals and images in a ritual that symbolizes the endless circle of life. The hoop dancing and roller skating in “Totem” are firsts for Cirque du Soleil. Photo: courtesy Cirque du Soleil

changes of the seasons, traditional cultural and tribal designs and sophisticated surface treatment of fabric to achieve costumes that constantly interact with and adapt to the show’s ever-changing lighting. 

Most striking is Crystal man—a recurring character—who represents the life force. He descends from space and sparks life early in the show and dives into a lagoon at the close.  His dazzling costume is covered with about 4,500 crystals and reflective mirrors and when he twirls and drops down from the sky, he glistens like a falling star.  The ten performers in the Russian bars act also stand out in their vibrant op art unitards—each is different but collectively these costumes have a harlequin meets the lost civilizations of South America vibe.  Humans, scaly fishes, clowns, a toreador, cosmonauts—whatever the costume, Barrett has designed it to accentuate the bodies and all the possible movements of these outstanding performers.

For all its wizardry and outright coolness and camp, “Totem” doesn’t really present any clear-cut thesis or timeline about where mankind has come from or is going—the approach was to throw in everything and anything and mix it all up in a series of vignettes with great stunts.  It’s an environment where Planet of the Apes chimps, Darwinesque explorers, Native Americans, clowns, businessmen, Cosmonauts, and Bollywood players all meet up.  At the end of it all, my favorite act was a male female trapeze duo cleverly enacting a romance─from an innocent game of seduction to gradually intertwined bodies enthralled in a vertical dance of unusual movements and lifts. 

Trapeze artists Louis-David Simoneau and Rosalie Ducharme play a sexy game of in-air seduction, eventually intertwining their bodies in a light-hearted vertical dance. Photo: courtesy Cirque du Soleil

 

Cirque Facts: The cast of “Totem” comprises 51 artists from 17 countries.

The “Totem” hybrid show is the first Cirque du Soleil show to be created in such a way that it can be adapted to the reality of arenas and other venues from the very outset.

As part of the celebration festivities surrounding the 400th anniversary of Quebec City in 2008, Robert Lepage created Le Moulin á images─the largest architectural projection ever produced─on the walls of the Bunge, a massive grain silo.

In January 2012, “Totem” will travel to London to the Royal Albert Hall. 

Details:  Cirque du Soleil’s “Totem” takes place under the Grand Chapiteau (Big Top), AT&T Park, Parking Lot A, 74 Mission Rock Street, San Francisco.  Tuesdays and-Wednesdays 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. and 1 p.m.; Sundays 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.  Closes: December 11, 2011.
Tickets: $55 to $360   Information and to purchase tickets: www.cirquedusoleil.com/totem

November 10, 2011 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

review: Teatro ZinZanni’s “Caliente” puts Latin fire in the old spiegletent

Christine Deaver heats things up in Teatro ZinZanni’s new show “Caliente: Too Hot To Handle,” under the ZinZanni tent at Pier 29 on the San Francisco Embarcadero through June 19, 2011. Photo: Tracy Martin

I made my first visit to Teatro ZinZanni on Pier 29 last October and the evening was magical—several hours of pure escapism into old-world cabaret.  Caliente: Too Hot to Handle is ZinZanni’s latest Latin extravaganza—offering an evening of dining and entertainment that draws on some of ZinZanni’s most successful traditions– cabaret style music, racy comedy, audience involvement, and dazzling acrobatics.  Caliente stars ZinZanni regular Christine Deaver and Robert Lopez in a rambling storyline, as a brother and sister duo, Tres and Cinco, who galvanize a team of kitchen workers to oppose the closure of their circus tent and realize their full potential.  Singer Rebekah del Rio stands out in the evening’s pastiche of dazzling acts as does Ann Bernard, one of world’s foremost interpreters of the Argentinian malambo dance.  Returning to awe audiences with their flexibility and physical bravado are the French comedic acrobat trio, Les Petits Frères, Ukrainian contortionist Vita Radionova, and Chinese aerialist Ling Rui.  Caliente is developed and directed by San Francisco’s own Ricardo Salinas, a founding member of the critically acclaimed Chicano/Latino performance trio known as Culture Clash which originated in 1984 in San Francisco’s Mission District.  Tobias Larsson, one of ZinZanni’s most popular artists, serves as choreographer.

You may have heard that some 80 businesses on San Francisco port property were notified in January that they will likely have to move to make way for the America’s Cup yacht race, scheduled for 2013.  Teatro Zinzanni  is one of them, so now is the time to visit.

Exteriors can be deceiving: there’s a party going on inside!

While Teatro ZinZanni has been in San Francisco since 2000, I suspect that many people drive by the large off-white tent on Pier 29 and chalk it off as something for tourists. 

Once inside, the magic begins…the energetic vibe is inescapable, uplifting.  Escorts in seductive cabaret-style costumes greet and guide you through the period-style lobby, and into the bar area, bustling like an elegant bordello.  There, you can get any number of exotic drinks and join the line to enter the main tent—Le Palais Nostalgique, which is what all the fuss is about.   This splendid antique “spiegletent” (Dutch for “mirror tent”) is one of the few remaining hand-crafted traveling tents in use and it is every bit a star in the evening, defining the elegant and intimate mood.  Originally these spiegletents were constructed in the Flemish region of Belgium and served as mobile wine tasting pavilions and dance halls for thousands European locales lacking proper entertainment facilities.  Le Palais Nostalgique was built in 1926 and transported from Barcelona, Spain, to the United States for the first time in October 1998, especially for Teatro ZinZanni.

Celebrated for her moving rendition of Llorando (the Spanish version of Roy Orbison’s Crying) Rebekah del Rio plays Blanche, a repressed realtor, who finds her true self in song. Photo Mark Kitaoka.

 The luxurious interior is a site to behold.  At twenty-nine-feet tall, and with a circumference of over 200 feet, the circular antique theater can accommodate about 275 people and still feel intimate.  Every seat has a view and excellent acoustics but those closest to the center, where the performance occurs, are best.  The dining and performance areas are swathed in plush velvet, with lush drapes sporting antique tassels and gold brocade.  

Dinner is Served

It’s relaxing to know that once you’ve arrived at ZinZanni, you’re here for the evening and everything, including dinner, is provided.  The pre-fixe gourmet meal is a full five courses, using seasonal and local ingredients, and is excellent considering the volume they do—about 285 people served all at the same time.  All the food is prepared off-site under the supervision of Chef Patrick Fassino of Restaurant TZ, and, when I visited, everything arrived appropriately cold or warm and exquisitely staged.  I tried and recommend the wine pairing menu– five 2.5 once tasting portions, $38 prix fixe. (Dinner, matinee and wine menus change periodically and are online.)   The courses are delivered with escalating fanfare by the cast and servers about every 40 minutes.  Current Menu: Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam Triple Cream Brie with castelvetrano olives, spiced almonds and crostini, Tortilla Soup with lime crème fraiche and blue corn tortilla strips,  Spinach and watermelon radish salad with mango and jalapeno vinaigrette,  entrée choice of herb-marinated roasted chicken breast with mascarpone polenta, chayote and salsa verde OR grilled fillet of beef with ancho chili butter, organic roasted potatoes and blue lake green beans OR jack cheese and vegetable tamales with black beans, salsa verde and salsa rojo, and caramel panna cotta or coconut cake and passion fruit mango sauce.  Dinner, matinee and wine menus change periodically and are online.   

A brigade of kitchen workers band together and move to the front of the house in Teatro ZinZanni's "Caliente" through June 19 at Pier 29. Photo: Mark Kitaoka.

A brigade of kitchen workers band together and move to the front of the house in Teatro ZinZannis "Caliente" through June 19 at Pier 29. Photo: Mark Kitaoka.

Theme: Job Insecurity

As Caliente gets underway, you soon discover that its theme cuts remarkably close to home with ZinZanni’s own staff and entertainers who face an uncertain future until their new location is cemented.  While the kitchen crew in a performance tent are readying themselves for the busy evening ahead, they receive shocking news from Mr. Ching (Chinese acrobat Ling Rui) who is the new owner’s son.  He tells them through his real estate broker/translator Blanche, (Rebekah Del Rio) that their tent is being razed and they are all out of jobs. Cinco (Robert Lopez) and his sister Tres (Christine Deaver) try to galvanize the staff to revolt but they are met with resistance from the fearful and disempowered workers. Fortunately, one of the workers discovers a loophole in their contract and they learn that they can put on one last performance.  What ensues over the course of the evening is the honing of this motley crew into performers and major attitude adjustment and empowerment as they begin to see themselves as much more than menial laborers.  While this is no political tour de force, Salinas does manage to reference a number of issues and current events impacting the Latino community.     Deaver and  Lopez ham it up as their characters live out their childhood fantasties in the Spiegletent–there’s a zany Donny and Marie theme and elements of Little Red Writing Hood.  

The great thing about ZinZanni is that its talent runs deep and when you least expect it, amongst the all-consuming zaniness that is ZinZanni, you can be blown away by the simple delivery of a song.  Rebekah Del Rio’s splendid “Que Sera, Sera,” coming near the end of the show, is worth the price of admission.  Del Rio has a new album out “All of My Life” that includes English/Spanish songs from Easy Listening to Latin Jazz and traditional Mexican Boleros.

Physicality—European Cirque-style

The enthralling combination of aerial acrobatics that involve legs and arms being supported in unnatural positions by a nothing more than a long rung of twisted fabric is something we’ve become familiar with, thanks to Cirque du Soleil.   At Teatro ZinZanni, it all unfolds just a few feet from you and that closeness makes all the difference between watching and being enthralled.   While this show is not as overtly packed with the circus tricks of past ZinZanni offerings, the performance offers a range of  physical acts that are smoothly integrated with music and involve other professional performers in the cast.    

It’s easy to be seduced by Ann Bernard whose elegant malambo performance on a circular wooden platform just a few feet from you builds in tension and complexity over a period of several minutes.  Bernard, who has performed all over the world, uses boleadoras (leather ropes with hard balls at the end) to beat out an energetic and increasingly frenzied malambo rhythm in 6/8 on the floor.  She matches this with tap dancing and as her shoes strike the floor over and over with precise movements, it evokes the gallop of horses.

Chinese acrobat Ling Rui (also plays Mr. Ching) who has been performing and training in circus arts since he was a child in Southeastern China’s Flag Circus of China gives an amazing aerial straps performance.  The discipline of aerial straps was originally a Chinese specialty involving athletes enacting intensely muscular tricks up and down the straps, much like moves on aerial rings.   Rui’s perfectly toned body, stretched horizontally in positions that are almost impossible to imagine, is breathtaking.

Ukranian contortionist Vita Radionova’s perfectly toned body moving in and out of seemingly impossible poses with ease makes for an incredibly sensual act that is a site to behold.

Les Petits Frères (Gregory Marquet, Mickael Bajazet, Domitil Aillot) who play a janitor, maitre-d’ about to lose their jobs perform a number of daring aerial tricks and gymnastics in “Caliente.” Photo: Tracy Martin.

Les Petits Frères (Gregory Marquet, Mickael Bajazet, Domitil Aillot) who play a janitor, maitre-d’ have been dubbed the “Floating Act” by the European press because of their unique ability to defy gravity with graceful aerial acrobatics.   The group was founded in 1993 at the acclaimed Annie Fratellini Circus School in Paris.At ZinZanni, you are sitting so close that you can see their every move. 

Late Night Cabaret Lunatique:  Teatro ZinZanni recently launched Cabaret Lunatique, a monthly series of hip and decadent Saturday midnight shows, each honoring a different San Francisco neighborhood. Coming tributes: North Beach on April 16; The Mission on May 14; and The Castro on June 11. Live music, singers, clowns, contortionists, dancing, specialty cocktails and a bar menu. Twenty-one-and-over.

Lunatique North Beach this Saturday evening (April 16, 2011):   Features local artists from the Bay Area including comedian Jeff Applebaum; interpreters of Argentine Tango Trio Garufa; aerialist Marina Luna; and contortionist Dwoira Scheffer. They will be joined by sizzling burlesque performer Bombshell Betty, tango dancers Julian & Lisette, clown Aji Slater, and ZinZanni favorite Christine Deaver!  Fantasy costumes welcomed.  Door open 11:15 p.m. Tickets $25 to $35. (415) 438-2668 or www.zinzanni.org.

Tickets: Performances Wednesday to Saturday at 6 p.m., Sunday at 5 p.m. $117-$145 for a five course meal and 3 hour performance, plus a $12 per guest dining room service charge applied to your beverage bill.  All beverages are separate and are available at the bar before entering the dining area and inside, during the evening performance.  A wine pairing menu which pairs 5 local wines with each of the courses runs $36. 

Seating:  The circular tent seats about 285 people in an arrangement of concentric seating that includes both booths and table.  All tickets are sold under “General Admission and seating is arranged by the Maitre d’ who assigns your seats the night you attend, “restaurant style.”  The best seats are premium seats, closest to the center of the tent.  There are 7 premium tables which seat four and 4 premium tables for two.

Box Office Phone (415) 438-2668 www.zinzanni.org.

April 16, 2011 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Precious Cargo—Cavalia Horses arrive in San Francisco for 4 weeks of magic: November 16 – December 12, 2010

Cavalia which opens November 16 in San Francisco features 54 horses representing 12 different breeds many of whom perform without bridles to hand gestures. Photo: Geneva Anderson

I love my work!  Thursday afternoon’s arrival of the Cavalia horses at their new San Francisco base at the White Big Top adjacent to AT&T Park was magical.  As a caravan of a half dozen or so huge KC Horse Transport semi-trailers pulled up to site–which is most definitely “under construction”— we got to see the unloading of these magnificent horses, one by one, and to meet Cavalia’s human team.  The horses, of course, stole the show—54 magnificent horses representing 10 different breeds— Pure Spanish Breed (P.R.E.), Quarter Horse, Arabian, Lusitano, Paint Horse, Percheron, Mustangs, Comtois, Criollo and Warmblood–that come from France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Canada, and the U.S.  They range in age from the 7-month-old rescue colts Rocky and Roucao to a regal Lusitano stallion named Edros, who at 18 years is the eldest of Cavalia’s performing horses.  The horses’ long journey to San Francisco began in Denver, Colorado, where they performed in September and October, and included a stop-over in Salt Lake City and a two week vacation in Elk Grove where they rested up before their San Francisco run which begins Tuesday. 

As the doors of the luxury trailers opened, we got to see just how this precious cargo travels and it’s first class all the way.  From the padded shock- absorbing floors of the temperature controlled trailer to the full complement of hay, along with a name plate and travel passport for each horse, I was impressed.  Donned in protective leg-wraps, tail guards and fabric main braids, more than 50 horses, a mix of roughly half stallions and half geldings, stepped out to meet the press and their new home without incident. 

After a vacation in Elk Grove, the Cavalia horses arrived Thursday in San Francisco where they will perform though December 12. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Most impressive was the people-to-horse ratio which works out conservatively at about 2 to 1.  Cavalia doesn’t seem to cut corners —the tour employs 120 people on a permanent basis and hired 200 extras for San Francisco.  As each horse disembarked, he was handled off to his own personal assistant who led him back to an exercise area, thoroughly checked him, and later escorted him to a large comfy stall where he was groomed and fed.   Most cool though was the loving vibe that permeated the Cavalia village–Cavalia people love horses and you can sense it in their every move and so can the horses who follow them around like puppies.

There’s nothing like a baby to get people oohing and awing.  When rescue colts Rocky and Roucao— newbies to trailering and to the Cavalia lifestyle—skittishly disembarked, they looked a little shell-shocked but quickly warmed to solid land and the adoring press corp.  The giant Percheron stallions–Edros and Emilio–stole my heart with their commanding physical presence, ham-bone personalities and extreme gentleness.   While the breed’s exact origin is unknown,  the Percheron was originally bred as a war horse, and turned up in France’s Perche Valley in the 17th  Century and was brought to the US in the 1930’s where it was used almost exclusively as a draft and range horse.  The breed has recently experienced a renaissance here in the States and it’s not uncommon to see these one ton plus beauties perform in horse shows.   

Cavalia’s founder Canadian Normand Latourelle, who also co-founded Cirque du Soleil, was on hand supervising the activities.  In addition to Thursday’s arrival of the Cavalia horses, the Cavalia village was going up—nine tents including the White Big Top tent which is 110 feet high–the equivalent of a ten story building– with a 160-foot-wide stage that is large enough to allow horses to reach a full gallop as they race past the audience.  This is

7 month old rescue colt Roucao bounds out of the trailer, happy to be on solid ground. Photo: Geneva Anderson

where the magic occurs. And thanks to new technology that allows for stunning multimedia effects, that magic has evolved since Cavalia was last here seven years ago explained Latourelle.   The horses will frolic with acrobats, aerialists, dancers and entertainers in front of a constantly changing background, projected on a 200 ft wide screen, transporting the spectators into amazing dream-like virtual settings.  The audience is just a few feet-away, seated theatre-style facing this enormous stage, taking it all in.

Latourelle explained that “Cavalia” is actually a “made up poetic name” that captures the essence of how man connects with horse which is really the driving theme of the show.  Cavalia is the result of a 10 year quest to find a dramatic way to incorporate the power of horses and their mysterious beauty into a captivating multi-media experience that is “absolutely unique” and “unforgettable.”  With special effects like images projected against a sheet of water, the experience is certainly dramatic but most of the people I’ve spoken with about Cavalia remember the horses themselves with their flowing manes and tails and the intimacy of the connection between man and horse which sparks a kind of yearning in them.   How ironic that Latourelle whose vision has molded Cavalia into a wildly successful show, doesn’t ride horses himself and jokes off all attempts to get him to try it.  “I knew nothing about horses before this and obviously now I know a lot more.  I get a thrill every time I see these horses move.  In fact, I fell in love with the aspect of the horse as a performer, but I’ll stick to what I do best which is the business of selling that to the world.” 

The Cavalia horses are all males—stallions and geldings.  When I asked Latourelle about the added difficulty of working with stallions who are more spirited and more difficult to train and work with he said “Actually these guys are pretty calm and not so difficult because they have never been around mares so they don’t know what they are missing.  They are just like boys, if they get it just once, they want it all the time.  We hope they never get any.” 

What followed next was Cavalia star Sylvia Zerbini working over a dozen Arabian horses in an arena on her “Liberty act.”  The horses, all grey, except for a young black stallion, entered the tented arena prancing, playing, and full of energy–like a glorious carousel that came to life—but quickly responded to the petite Zerbini’s every command.  The Liberty act features horses performing while remaining unbridled and free, or “at liberty.”  Zerbini controls them with hand signals and about 10 vocal commands that vary in tone and pitch.  This is where words fail me.  Watching those horses move freely is something that a thousand over-used adjectives can’t begin to touch…you feel it deep in your core .   

Cavalia's Arabian horses practice the "Liberty act," as they respond to trainer Sylvia Zerbini's hand and voice commands. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Cavalia’s Arabian horses are between 4 and 13 years in age and have been sold to Cavalia through many channels but their preparation for performing Cavalia-style requires years of training which is done at the farm in Canada.  

“Sometimes when we buy a horse, it has been ridden before but Sylvia doesn’t really ride them except bareback and with no bit or bridle.  She occasionally jumps them” explained Latourelle.  “We have been touring for seven years now and when we introduce new horses, we will do it gradually, carefully in a process we call “illumination” where we keep some of the audience, a few hundred or so, after a show and the horses slowly get to understand what the public is.”

Zerbini has toured with Cavalia for three years now but began as a Cavalia trainer at the farm in Canada for 6 months before joining the tour.  She replaced Cavalia’s former equestrian co-directors, the internationally celebrated husband and wife team Frédéric Pignon and Magali Delgado, who now reside in France’s Loire Valley and no longer work with Cavalia.  “We started in North American and then toured a lot in Europe and they didn’t make that move back with us to North America, which is where we’ve been since 2009,” explained Latourelle, “so we a have new equestrian director and new artists.” 

Sylvia Zerbini works to pose the horses for a group portrait...no easy task. Photo Geneva Anderson

“She looks relaxed but she is aware of everything in the ring at all times,” explained Latourelle. “Look how they come to her with so much affection…it’s just amazing.” Indeed, Zerbini appears to be in perfect communion, reading the horses and getting back messages that range from “we’re having fun” to “I don’t understand what you want.” 

“They have been on vacation for two weeks,” says Zerbini, “so they are a little excited right now but what you are seeing here is horses playing and socializing just as they would in the wild.  You see how they are hanging out—the stallions on one side and the geldings on the other, that’s nature.”   

As Zerbini holds court, she seems perfectly comfortable with mediating squabbles that come up with her boys, the most common of which is biting their team member in the butt or giving a hefty shove that provokes retaliation.  The new black stallion, who is just 4, was bought a year and half ago.  He is a bit uncomfortable with the others and he stays close to Zerbini, like a child clinging to his mother on the first day of school.  He currently works one show and then has two shows off and is being eased into the performing life.  “This is his future place,” explains Latourelle, he just doesn’t understand it yet, nor does he know he is black.”

Standing just inches away from the path they cut on the edge on the arena, my heart surged as I moved in to take a picture of the galloping horses racing by.  The feeling was primal, pure elation, deep in my gut.  As the group calmed down some, I noticed that the horses frequently came to Zerbini to both give and receive affection.  Witnessing that was both healing and exhilarating.

Sylvia Zerbini works to pose the horses for a group portrait...no easy task. Photo Geneva Anderson

The process of posing the horses for a group press portrait was humorous and very similar to the antics we all go through to obtain a family portrait.  It started with getting them into a line and all facing the same way and then trying to get them to all keep behaving so they looked like a loving family.  The urge to nip is sometimes irresistible and just as Zerbini would coax one horse into posing, another would act out with antics of his own.  Slowly, and with a quiet grace, it came together.  

Next, Cavalia star performer Gregory Molina demonstrated Roman riding—a feat of balance and control that entails standing on the backs of two horses simultaneously as they gallop around the arena.  The sport hails back from Roman times when Roman generals stood on their horses’ backs to survey the battle field.  It was later adapted by Hungarian “post riders”—these were mail delivery workers who discovered they could carry more mail if they stood on their horses and rode as opposed to having one horse carry the mail and one horse carry the rider.  

Sylvia Zerbini works to pose the horses for a group portrait...no easy task. Photo Geneva Anderson

At Cavalia, specific horses are used for each act and specific riders will work only with those horses that they click best with.  Cavalia uses Quarter horses for Roman riding because they are good at the fast quick bursts of energy the sport requires and they tend to be calm.  

At Latourelle’s urging, Fairland Ferguson jumped in next to do an impromptu demonstration of her Roman riding skills, not wearing any riding boots at all. Ferguson hails from Virginia and came to Cavalia as an experienced trick and Roman rider a year ago and loves performing before a huge crowd.   With masses of red hair, riveting blue-green eyes, and a fearless persona, she acts a lot like the lost twin of Olympic snow-boarder Shaun White.  She admits that she took quickly to these more experimental and dangerous forms of riding.  “I started out riding Western Pleasure and liked it, but it was pretty boring.  When I realized that I could go really fast and have no rules per se, I was all over it.”  During one of her laps around the ring she shouted exuberantly, “It’s just like skiing, except your skis have minds of their own and you’re not hooked in with bindings.” 

The protocol for taking a fall—which happens every now and then— is “styling it off” and continuing the routine, making it seem like it’s no big deal.  Ask any Cavalia performer though, and they will tell you that the majority of mistakes that occur result from human error—not being adequately prepared or anticipating.  “We’ve done a lot of training and preparation and you can’t control everything, but we like to think that we have really tried to minimize the risk and done everything to ensure the smoothest and safest show possible,” said Ferguson.

Cavalia's resident femme daredevil, Fairland Ferguson, demonstrates Roman riding as she straddles two galloping Quarter horses. Photo: Geneva Anderson

We finished our afternoon with a walk through the stables, meeting horses, workers and experiencing horses being groomed and loved.  Each horse has approximately two hours of play time a day and works about an hour a day.  They are groomed and washed down daily and when it’s show time, an elaborate mane-styling can take hours.  

That gorgeous Cavalia poster that is up EVERY WHERE advertising the San Francisco show is actually a drawing based on Cavalia’s beloved Lusitano stallion Templado—he’s the horse that is universally associated with Cavalia and he died in 2008.  Try Googling “Templado” you will come upon hundreds of images of this luminous angel.  

Back to Latourelle with the two final questions:

GA:  “Normand, what’s next for Cavalia?  

NL:  “Actually, I am working on a brand new show which I’m hoping will be ready next August.  You’ll have to come back for that.  We know that our audience really responds to horses running free and we’re going to be emphasizing more of that and trying to get away from bridles and reins in the stunt work.  We’ve been working on this for four years now and it’s very challenging but also very exciting.  

 GA: “Do you think you’ll ever get on a horse? 

NL:  “No!  They put me on one once to take a picture and when I look at that picture, I say that’s really enough.”    

 Performance Details: Cavalia opens Tuesday, November 16, 7 p.m. and runs on most Tuesdays-Thursdays at 8 p.m, on Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m. and on Sundays at 2 p.m. Closes December 12, 2010. 

Location: All performances at the Cavalia Big Top Tent, 4th Street and China Basin Street, adjacent to AT&T Park, San Francisco.

Tickets: $29.50 to $229.50. “Rendez-vous” package includes pre-show meal, wine, stable tour.   (866) 999-8111 or www.cavalia.net

November 13, 2010 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

review–Teatro ZinZanni’s HAIL CAESAR through October 31…a madcap performance tossed up by two of history’s most famous lovers.

Dreya Weber as Cleopatra and Frank Ferrante as Caesar in Teatro ZinZanni's "Hail Caesar" through October 31, 2010. Photo courtesy of Cory Weaver

Love a wacky love story, saucy humor?  Teatro ZinZanni’s “Hail Ceasar!,” through October 31, will delight you to no end.  Imagine a resurrected Cleopatra—”Cleo”–with the take-charge bravado and killer bod of “Xena: Warrior Princess,” who falls head over heels for Caesar, a wise-cracking chef.  Toss in brilliant improv, stunning aerial acrobatics, spicy subplots, wonderful music and a five-course meal delivered by servers in satin bustiers.  Top it off with “love powder” and let yourself laugh hard.  That’s how I spent my Thursday evening.

 HAIL CAESAR! features Frank Ferrante as Caesar and acclaimed aerialist, actress and musician Dreya Weber as Cleo, an unforgettable Queen of the Nile whose heart pounds only for Caesar. ZinZanni has run various Caesar stories for the past decade, with a changing plot and a new set of performers every 4 months, but the run is about to end when Ferrante, the show’s anchor, goes to Philadelphia at the end of October.  If you’ve been wanting to catch this performance, do it now.  In addition to Ferrante and Weber, the current international cast of performers includes opera mezzo-soprano Christine Abraham, Australian Tim Tyler as the eccentric Mr. PP, Chinese acrobat sensations Ming and Rui, US National Champion gymnast Alexa Hukari, and Vertical Tango duo Sam Payne and Sandra Feusi. 

 Exteriors can be deceiving

Teatro ZinZanni has been around since 2000, combining sit-down dinner with theatre, music, comedy and very close-up Cirque du Soleil type acrobatics.  I had driven by the off-white tent that is Teatro ZinZanni on Pier 29 many times and chalked it off as something for tourists.  It took prompting from a fellow writer to get me to make the schlep into San Francisco from Sonoma County for a 6:15 pm arrival on a weekday.  I’m glad I did.    

Once inside, my world changed immediately…the energetic vibe was inescapable, uplifting. Escorts in seductive cabaret-style costumes greeted and guided me through the period-style lobby, and into the bar area, bustling like an elegant bordello.  I picked up my ticket and joined the line to enter the main tent—Le Palais Nostalgique, which is what all the fuss is about.  This splendid antique “spiegletent” (Dutch for “mirror tent”) is one of the few remaining hand-crafted traveling tents in use and it is every bit a star in the evening, defining the elegant and intimate mood.  Originally these spiegletents were constructed in the Flemish region of Belgium and served as mobile wine tasting pavilions and dance halls for thousands European locales lacking proper entertainment facilities.  Le Palais Nostalgique was built in 1926 and transported from Barcelona, Spain, to the United States for the first time in October 1998, especially for Teatro ZinZanni.  

 The luxurious interior is a site to behold.  At twenty-nine-feet tall, and with a circumference of over 200 feet, the circular antique theater can accommodate about 275 people and still feel intimate.  Every seat has a view and excellent acoustics but those closest to the center, where the performance occurs, are best.  The dining and performance areas are swathed in plush velvet, with lush drapes sporting antique tassels and gold brocade.  

Dinner is Served

Dinner is an integral part of the plot and entertainment.  The pre-fixe gourmet meal is a full five courses, using seasonal and local ingredients, and is excellent

Frank Ferrante is Caesar and Dreya Weber is "Cleo," a love-struck Cleopatra in Teatro Zinzanni's "Hail Caesar" through October 31. Photo courtesy of Eye of Passion.

considering the volume they do—about 285 people served all at the same time.  All the food is prepared off-site, yet everything arrived appropriately cold or warm and exquisitely staged.  I tried and recommend the wine pairing menu– five 2.5 once tasting portions, $38 prix fixe. (Dinner, matinee and wine menus change periodically and are online.)   The courses are delivered with escalating fanfare by the cast and servers about every 40 minutes.  Each course– appetizer, soup, salad, entrée, dessert—relates to the musical.  Prior to salad, for example, Caesar woos a special lady with an outrageously huge veggie necklace, a cheesy gesture that somehow works.  

Ferrante –the eternal and comedic Emperor of Love

Frank Ferrante is foolproof–Zinzanni’s comedic anchor.  Like all master improvisers who work spontaneously with audience members, he asks a question, listens intently and then seemingly, without thinking, pounces.  Through a quick series of exchanges, he gets into some very interesting and provocative stuff, aware of the line between suggestive and crude.  His conversation with a Rahluca, a blonde Romanian bombshell in stilettos and a low-cut dress, opened like this—

“You’re a beautiful woman, what is your name?”

“Rahluca”

“Ahh, ‘Rahluca,’ that was my second guess.”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-nine?  You just made the cut.  What do you do for a living, Rahluca?”

“I have my own business.”

“I bet you do.  What is it?”

“Car leasing.”

“At my age, I only lease, I refuse to buy.”  

Aeriaist Dreya Weber combines graceful artistry with extreme atheleticism as she takes to air, performing on twisted fabric ropes. Photo courtesy of Eye of Passion.

Later in the evening,  he selected three men from the audience, each a cliché of maleness, to bat about.  In anyone else’s hands, this could easily deteriorate into something tired and worn but Ferrante keeps it fresh and hopping.  You don’t really need to think about any of it, it just flows.  But it’s actually very hard work.  In the performance I attended, Ferrante had to contend with a woman–either drunk or crazy–who got up and tried to insert herself into the act several times.  A 38 could not have stopped her, but he kept his cool and zinged her into submission.  There’s only one clown in the room and it’s Ferrante.

The Dreya Factor: A Cleopatra of the Air with killer abs

The chemistry between Ferrante and new leading lady Dreya Weber is magical.  Weber, as the sultry Cleo, initially pursues Caesar in song but he isn’t interested and flirts it up with the audience instead.  Weber takes to the air literally—in a stunning aerial performance—and it is hard to take your eyes off that perfectly conditioned body that must be at least 40, with not an once of flab.   As Weber elegantly swings and drops from a twisted fabric rope, frequently landing in full center splits just feet from you, you can see her breath and her muscles contracting.  A renowned aerialist, Weber has choreographed several aerial acts for stars like Madonna, Cher, and Pink, including Pink’s performance at the 2010 Grammy Awards.  You may also recognize her as the chief female model and lead demonstrator for the P90X workout program developed by Tony Horton, or remember her performance  in the film “The Gymnast,” which she also produced.    Weber can sing and act and adds emotional resonance to the show.  As Cleo and Caesar gradually reveal their soft sides, it is not hard to imagine they are actually in love.   Ferrante admits that their chemistry is real—“We are wearing costumes and grease paint but underneath all of that, for this to work, there has to be a real connection to make it special and we have that in real life. …Dreya is a Cleopatra who is in the air, of the sky, a goddess.   She is ethereal.  My character is of the earth, and his desires come from down below, but we find out that they have much in common.  As Cleopatra the woman, she has these passions, appetites and we are both hungry.   As leading characters in the ring together, that makes for an interesting evening.   How lucky am I that every night I get to kiss Cleopatra?”

Husband and wife duo Sam Payne and Sandra Feusi, (from Sausalito) as a bookish Egyptologist and a Scottish waiter, do an astonishing sensual “vertical tango,” wooing each other in beautifully choreographed tango moves on a pole. Photo courtesy of Cory Weaver.

Physicality—European Cirque-style

The enthralling combination of aerial acrobatics that involve legs and arms being supported in unnatural positions by a nothing more than a long rung of twisted fabric is something we’ve become familiar with thanks to Cirque du Soleil.   At Teatro Zinzanni, it all unfolds on a small platform  just a few feet from you and that closeness makes all the difference.   The sheer physicality of this performance is exceptional AND it is smoothly integrated with dancing and music and involves other professional performers in the cast.    

Vertical Tango husband and wife duo Sam Payne and Sandra Feusi, (from Sausalito) as a bookish Egyptologist and a Scottish waiter do an actual “vertical tango,” wooing each other in beautifully choreographed tango dancing, passionately weaving up, down, and around each other and scaling a 20 foot pole.  The couple performed for years in Cirque du Soleil’s “Saltimbanco” and their perfectly toned bodies stretched horizontally in positions that are almost impossible to imagine, along with their fiery passion, make you feel as if you are watching a very private form of communication.   

Particularly impressive is Tim Tyler  as Mr. PP, a Safari clad explorer character who combines a prissy head-master vibe with outrageous mouth juggling skills and acrobatics.  Before making an important phone call, Mr. PP nervously coughed up nine! ping-pong balls and then juggled three of them simultaneously, using his throat and mouth muscles.   

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A chat with Frank Ferrante who leaves ZinZanni on October 31st

Geneva Anderson:  You always play Caesar but the plot changes.  Do you have input into the story?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Frank Ferrante:  I do have input and lots of flexibility.  I started in San Francisco in 2001 and this is my 9th year at ZinZanni—two tents, one here and one in Seattle.  They came up with this because I had been working the material for a few years and I think it was Norman Langill’s (founder, artistic director) way of saying we like what’ve you’ve been doing here, let’s do a show that’s built around Caesar and his adventures.  That was very flattering and that was 5 or 6 years ago.  We’ve done several different stories and this one here feels brand new and Dreya is new to this show.  We are both here until the 31st with this run and then we both leave.  I go to Philadelphia to the Walnut Street Theatre to do a new show based on the Caesar character called Caesar’s Palace O’ Fun.  ZinZanni changes the show every 4 months and they are having a whole new show come in “License to Kiss,” with a new cast the first week of November. 

GA:  How do you size up the audience and figure out who you are going to work with?

Frank Ferrante:  It’s a mixture of knowing there are certain types that are in your back pocket that I can play with and I scan the audience for them…and sometimes I just wing it, creating the context as I go.  You don’t want people who are hambones, who are showy.  There’s only one clown in the room and that’s me.  You want someone who’s going to be fairly straight….but then they can be outrageous in their own way, in their responses about their profession, etc., or interaction with you.  You try to hedge your bets but your chance to fully control what’s happen is impossible.  That’s what I love about what I do.

GA:  How did you get used to working with aerialists and all the theatrics that unfold in the show, in addition to the comedy?                                                                                                                      

Frank Ferrante:    I had never done anything like that until ZinZanni 9 years ago and it’s such a different experience, it took me a couple of years to get my footing.  I come from the theatre—directing, acting in regional theatre, New York–and I did a play about Groucho Marx in New York and London but those were straight acting jobs.  For this, I had to watch and adjust and just survive the cirque world experience.  It is simply a different experience.  ZinZanni maintains and promotes a great American tradition of comedy that evokes a sense of yesterday—Zero Mostel, Jackie Gleason, Groucho, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Jack Benny.  There’s a bit of that in what I do and you’ll find the European traditions in ZinZanni as well.  It was strange thing to get used to, but basically we are all in the same boat…all trying to be the best we can be… but when we get used to it, and when it all comes together, it is magical.  The production staff designers, crew are brilliant.  And it’s a beautiful production–the costumes are beautiful, it’s beautifully lit and there’s something very unique about the setting that many Americans haven’t experienced.  They’ve been to Cirque d’Soleil, maybe Broadway, but this is distinct.

 GA:  There seems to be something very special about your interaction with your current leading lady Dreya Weber. Your chemistry with her is fantastic.

Frank Ferrante:    We’re very close.  We understand each other and we have affection for each other and we both take our work seriously–we have the same attack and question every word that we utter.   That is our attraction.  We consider ourselves the “Lunt and Fontanne” of Pier 29 (Husband and wife team, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, 1920’s-1940’s, are widely considered the greatest acting team in the history of American theatre.)  We never worked together until this show and, in rehearsals, she was a kick in the pants and a real joy.   What is great for me is that we have the comedy juxtaposed with scenes of passion.

GA:  What moves it beyond the cliché of “dinner theatre”?  

Frank Ferrante:    We are both trained actors and have similar theatre references too.  We are trying in the show to give people something that is both low brow and high brow and that is pretty rare.  It’s vaudeville really with body elements and it has elements of a play and a musical and somehow it all works in its own way, as a strange amalgamation of styles.

GA:  How do you keep it fresh, do the performance over and over and bring newness into      it?                                                                                                                                                                                              

Frank Ferrante:    It is fresh because, for me, the audience is a character apart from Dreya and the other cast members.  The audience is my lover and I need them in the show–their laughs, their response– to play off.  Every night the audience is new, so I have unsuspecting petrons to work off of every day and I never get bored.

GA:  Who is your favorite live comedian and why?  I know that you have a long association with Groucho Marx and are still performing “An Evening with Groucho.”

Frank Ferrante:    My favorite living comedian from that era of comedy that I love is Sid Caesar who was able to clown but able to be truthful.  And what makes those scenes I do with Dreya work is that they are honest—the improv I do is actually fairly autobiographical and points to some truths about ourselves.  I like that I say things that people wish they could say and I do things that people wish they could do.  I can really say it all and do it all and it’s greeted with laughter and that’s very cathartic.  I love the tradition of comedy that I come out of which is linked to Groucho and to Sid Caesar, really to another time.  Caesar walked that line between outrageous and truthful like a genius.  All the great comedians tell the truth on some deep level.…and if you don’t tell the truth, the audience smells it and they drop down to another level of engagement.

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Tickets: $117-$195 for a five course meal and 3 hour performance, plus a $12 per guest dining room service charge applied to your beverage bill.  All beverages are separate and are available at the bar before entering the dining area and inside, during the evening performance.  A wine pairing menu which pairs 5 local wines with each of the courses runs $36. 

Seating:  The circular tent seats about 285 people in an arrangement of concentric seating that includes both booths and table.  All tickets are sold under “General Admission and seating is arranged by the Maitre d’ who assigns your seats the night you attend, “restaurant style.”  The best seats are premium seats, closest to the center of the tent.  There are 7 premium tables which seat four and 4 premium tables for two.

Box Office Phone (415) 438-2668 or buy directly online.

Current Menu: Cowgirl Creamery Peirce Point Cheese with marinated olives, spiced almonds and crostini, Corn Soup, Heirloom Tomato Salad, Grilled Pork Flat Iron with yukon gold mashed potatoes and peach chutney, Honey Chibouste & Hazelnut cake.  All arrived appropriately cold or warm and exquisitely staged.  My only complaint was that baby frissee in my heirloom tomato salad was like cardboard and many people left it on their plates.  Dinner, matinee and wine menus change periodically and are online.   

Be warned, while it is clearly written on the web page and repeated by your server, there is a $12.00/person additional “dining room” service charge that will be added to your bill.  

Parking is available at Pier 29, directly behind the tent with direct access to Teatro ZinZanni, for $10.00 through an automated machine that takes cash and credit cards.

October 3, 2010 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment