In early April the local Chicago arts press was invited for a ‘hard hat tour’ of the still under construction Teatro ZinZanni venue in the Chicago loop. The sneak peek was to strike up curiosity about the newest thing in town, an old Belgian Spiegeltent, which will house a raucous yet high brow evening of entertainment–a four course meal and variety show titles Love, Chaos & Dinner at the top of the Cambria Hotel (in a space sealed off since 1026 and forgotten) in Chicago’s loop theatre district. Teatro ZinZanni, which was founded over 20 years ago in Seattle by Norm Langill (also creative director) has been searching for a location in Chicago for over 8 years, according to lead producer Stan Feig, “It’s taken this long to find, but Chicago was always the main choice,” he assured me after the hard hat tour.
That Chicago was the top choice for a location to help this company grow shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone in the arts world. Chicago has a large population, a healthy theater district, a thriving arts scene, a growing circus community and over 58 million visitors a year. That and as Feig explained, Langill himself is from the area and has a midwest sensibility, so he won’t be serving up some slick Hollywood production, but something that appeals to the Chicago dinner crowd.
This concept of dinner theater is not new to Chicago either, although it’s heydey peaked in the mid-70’s worldwide, the notion has never truly faded away, and depending on your region (Las Vegas, Seattle and Germany, for example) it can be an established tradition. Add a little circus to the mix, and you can really spice up an evening, adding danger to the intimacy of a snug venue, like ‘Zazou’ (Teatro ZinZanni’s Spiegeltent which will seat 330 people all told, nestled in concentric circles around a small but agile performance circle.) Feig described the atmosphere, “First of all, there’s no proscenium– probably 90, 95% of the performance is in the center. We have a stage that is able to rise and lower. So it gives you excellent site lines and when you finally see it finished it’s a romantic environment. It’s going to have crystal chandeliers, theatrical lighting. When you enter from the street and enter our Spiegeltent you’ll be swept away, and that’s what it’s about. The experience.”
Zazou the Spiegeltent is part of a hundred year old Belgian tradition. Red velvet, mahogany, mirrors–all the trappings of antique luxury in a 4000 piece tent–it sets a very European tone and harkens back to the days of live entertainment, jazz, musicals, and of course, circus–cabaret style.
Dinner Theater and Circus
Feig considers the new show Love Chaos & Dinner to belong squarely in the variety arts camp, and he is adamant that is shouldn’t be classified as circus, which may seem curious when you consider that prevalence of circus acts that will be in every show, the tent-like structure and the vaudeville/sideshow aesthetic. But his motivation may have more to do with marketing than with definitions of cabaret and variety arts. “Chicago embraces a theatrical experience. Although we’re not theater, and we’re not circus. We can’t fit any elephants in our Spiegletent so we’re more ‘cirque’ than circus. But Chicago embraces what we have to offer. There is a 20 year history of success with Teatro ZinZanni, and this is very important to the performers. They’ve waited a long time to be here.” The lineup for the show is a multi-talented international crew, sourced from Langill’s willingness to travel to see good acts that will fit his venue.
Teatro ZinZanni is looking to settle in Chicago, plunking down their big wooden tent full of mirrors and velvet and calling it home (second to their Seattle location), planning to bring new shows on board every six months. In this first installation, which begins mid-July of 2019, Norm Langill will co-direct the show along with Dreya Weber, former Teatro ZinZanni artist turned choreographer/director. Love, Chaos & Dinner will be mc’d by improv comedian Frank Ferrante. Lady Rizo, the cabaret star, and comedians Joe De Paul and Tim Tyler will keep the banter rolling. The visuals will be provided by Chicago-based Duo Rose on duo trapeze, hoop aerialist Elena Gatilova, Parisian acrobat Domitil Aillot, and the Anastasini Brothers performing their risley act. For further excitement and drama, the show’s trademark opera diva will be local Chicago powerhouse Kelly Britt, there to serenade the audience.
All photos courtesy of Teatro ZinZanni