Welcome to vaudeville meets Berlin cabaret meets “The Ed Sullivan Show” meets cirque — otherwise known as Teatro ZinZanni’s “Love, Chaos & Dinner.” Or more succinctly: dinner theater on steroids.
And before you go searching the Loop’s familiar neon marquees for this evening of entertainment, consider: The newest addition to Chicago’s downtown theater district is nestled up above — on the 14th floor of the Cambria Hotel Chicago Loop on West Randolph, atop the old Oriental (now Nederlander) Theatre in a recently re-discovered and for years shuttered warehouse-like space.
Forget about a black-box space and theater seating. “Love, Chaos & Dinner,” which opened Saturday night, is presented theater-in-the-round style inside the massive 100-year-old, lavishly appointed Spiegeltent ZaZou with seating for over 300 patrons. Red velvet curtains, crystal chandeliers, dark wood, stained glass “windows,” mirrors and linen tablecloths are the order of the day. Cabaret-style tables (larger tables accommodate big groups/families) and candlelight further set the mood for a four-course dinner overseen by Debbie Sharpe of The Goddess and Grocer fame.
On the entertainment menu: Plate spinners, aerialists, jugglers, character clowns, a sultry chanteuse, an opera diva and a charming and mischievous emcee/comic/“chef” combine for nonstop hijinks and amazing athleticism. The action takes place all around, with performers suspended from the ceiling, circling the tables amid diners, atop a circular “center stage” and occasionally, if you’re seated at one specific table, right atop your banquette.
It’s no surprise that audience participation ensues, as several sketch comedy vignettes throughout the evening involve cast members scouring the dining room for their “victims,” resulting in plenty of shtick (while giving the kitchen staff time to plate the meal’s next course).
The host for the evening is the wildly entertaining comedian/actor Frank Ferrante, whose character, a lime-green-and-sequin-suited master of ceremonies named Caesar, fancies himself the emperor/chef of the festivities. Ferrante is an acclaimed stage actor, having portrayed the legendary master of split-second ad-libs and double entendres Groucho Marx in “Groucho: A Life in Review” and “An Evening with Groucho.” The experience serves him well here, whether he’s “auditioning” additional Caesars from among the diners, or arriving on a chariot to announce dinner is served. He is one wild and crazy guy.
Other inhabitants of this cabaret world include the mistress of the feast, Lady ZinZanni (Rizo, aka Amelia Zirin-Brown) a Grammy Award-winning vocalist whose powerhouse delivery is Lady Gaga meets Janis Joplin. The sinewy and towering Mr. P.P. (Tim Tyler) and rotund Joe (Joe De Paul) are a slapstick/comedy clown duo worthy of Laurel and Hardy. Chicago’s own Kelly Britt provides opera arias worthy of grand auditoriums.
But it was the breathtaking artistry of the cirque performers that defined the evening’s grandest moments. Performing in a center-room space no bigger than a living room and close enough for ringside table patrons to see eye-to-eye with each of the beautifully costumed artists (who serve double duty as part of the waitstaff), they bring centuries of circus family pedigree.
Chicago’s Duo Rose is a single-swing trapeze act, delivering a gorgeous aerial pas-de-deux with their seamless motions. Elena Gatilova, a former Ukrainian rhythmic gymnast and alum of Cirque du Soleil, is enchanting throughout her solo aerial hoop routine, a beautiful “ballet” filled with elegant contortions. The Anastasini Brothers body juggling/tumblers act was fabulously reminiscent of TV circus acts of old, but with a finale that will make your jaw drop.
Directed by Teatro ZinZanni founder Norm Langill, the show (which runs nearly three hours) at times seems to lose its momentum as a few of the entre-acts run on too long (Rizo’s seduction of a male patron could use a bit of a trim and Caesar’s audition routine falls flat). But there’s so much to enjoy, including live music provided by the killer Orchestra Deville, which knows no bounds when it comes to accompaniment.
“Love, Chaos and Dinner’ has been around for a number of years in various incarnations, including successful, lengthy engagements in San Francisco and Seattle. The creative team notes an exhaustive eight-year search culminated in the Chicago location, due mostly to the demands and space required for the massive Spiegeltent (which spans 72 feet). There are plans to revamp the show every five months or so with a new cast and new acts. It’s a recipe producers are no doubt banking on to keep audiences flocking to the mayhem, 14 stories up. Time will tell if it’s a recipe for success.
NOTE: The four-course dinner does not include beverages, bread, drinks, coffee, tea or starters, which are available for purchase. And an $8 per ticket/person service fee (independent of gratuity) will be added to your check at evening’s end.