Decadent Delights, a fantastical world of circus acts and whimsy, has its final shows this Wednesday through Sunday. ZinZanni’s next show, A Night Like This, opens the following week, before the company takes a scheduled hiatus next year.
Under the big top lives a collection of restaurant misfits.
The world’s worst waiter, with a starkly stoic face, will swing by and steal your chair — or, at our table, all your water, after giving either the tiniest of splashes in an empty glass or filling it, with great focus and calculation, exactly to the brim and then a drop into overflowing.
A bumbling busser wobbles under the weight of dish tubs, ultimately dropping them everywhere.
A garishly decorated host, with bottles of ketchup and mustard ensnared in her Medusa-meets-beehive hair, swings by with jabs and catcalls, then disappears before she can be of any help at all.
But against the odds, the business proprietor, Mrs. ZinZanni (Maiya Sykes), is ready to seek out greatness — and into the historic spiegeltent (“mirror tent”) comes the Maestro (Voronin), revered chef (Ling Rui) in tow, who can conjure up unusual talent in anyone out of his magical dust.
And just like that, the bumblers begin to amaze and the restaurant gains much dazzle, with the hope that the viewer-diners will have the times of their lives. And … that’s really the whole plot.
But plot isn’t the point. Spectacle and whimsy are center stage, and ZinZanni’s artists capably carry both. That dreary, water-stealing waiter? That’s Sabine Maier, who transforms, improbably, into half of the high-flying duo Die Maiers, swinging aloft over the dining room — and maintaining that impossibly stoic expression all the while. She’s like the metaphorical rain upon your dinner party, who magically learns to fly — and you half expect her to take a leap, just to bust through the table and crash your party once and for all. She’s bizarre, unexpected, and quite hilarious.
The acts that didn’t land as well? The chef character, whose actor hails from China, could do better than cheap jokes of Americanized Chinese stereotypes, — Panda Express and fortune cookies chief among their subjects — delivered in a pronounced accent; when Ling Rui performs in the air, though, he’s magnificent. And the magic, performed by Voronin and his real-life son, Maxim Voronin, largely faded into the background when up against all the other excitement — which is perhaps more a testament to the acts around them than the magicians themselves. As characters, however, both were compelling ones.
By design, there’s something for everyone and thus not all will be as big of a hit. Favorites at our table were the dazzling hula hoop artist (Vita Radionova) — who at points had enough hoops on her that she resembled a life-size Slinky; and the Maestro’s doll (Svetlana Perekhodova), a creepy posable human toy, so eerie in her caricature, who could also hold impossible poses. Singer Maiya Sykes (of The Voice fame), a bit toned down from the center ring, let her vocals soar from the stage on such sweet-themed hits as “Pour Some Sugar on Me” — performed with just enough rock and dripping with sugar. Manuela Horn, a sky-high yodeling dominatrix, performed AC/DC and carted off some exuberant audience member to his doom in a cage.
And host Doilee (Kevin Kent) was a sassy doll all evening. More than anyone, it is Kent who sets the enjoyable tone of whimsy all night. Magically transformed from diner sass queen to the Queen of Hearts, Doilee met her match in AJ, another hand-picked audience member — who has “done the theatre a few times” and managed to land some riotous one-liners in their ad-libbed banter. I suspect most audience participation segments don’t go over as well; but these two should reunite for an ongoing act.
Just as important to the ZinZanni experience is the culinary act. The food, luxurious sounding and highly touted in the thin plot, was full of intrigue but fell short of the promised decadence in a few areas.
Exclusive of the entree, every diner gets the same three courses as part of the base menu, included in the ticket price. The first course, a tomato tart (which seems a popular pick around town this season — no objections here) opted for a lackluster pie shell over the preferred flaky crust, and had a base that looked like gelatinous thousand island dressing. It wasn’t that, thankfully; but the flavors took some time to warm up to, and the textures some time to forget about. The soup was uninspiring and tasted simply of pepper; I set it aside. The dessert was fine; but it was here that more decadence was sorely needed, for when the title is Decadent Delights I expect it as a brag — a chance for the chef to go wild, with an excessively rich chocolate dish, or perhaps something that requires fire to finish. The actual finale? A cup of panna cotta (read: thick, mild lemon pudding), hardly a memorable finish.
Across those three courses, there was too much similarity in ingredients and texture, a noticeable monotony in contrast to the variety and whimsy carrying on all around throughout the meal.
It was for that reason I avoided the goat cheese-filled ravioli on first pass — but they’d prove to be the hero of the night, after the tuna (and its accompaniments) was so salty I couldn’t get past a bite or two. (I avoid beef, but my guest noted the steak was “fine” — hardly a rave review. Neither of us tried or saw the fourth option, a vegan course.) To their credit, the waitstaff noticed the issue immediately, and offered a replacement course. As for the vegetarian ravioli, after a few sprinklings of pepper (which they needed, to cut the richness), the deep beet-red little pastas billowed with rich goat cheese and happily swept up their light pesto cream. They were rich and yummy; and all was forgiven. At last, here was the decadence the show commanded!
On top of the base meal price (included with ticket) are several upgrades diners may pile on, from a swap-in of surf and turf (which for $69 substitutes for the standard entree choices) to additions like prawns ($12) and a lowly-sounding bread basket ($5). Here’s a hint: if you’re a carb fan, get the bread. A hidden gem of the menu, its folds were full of tasty little breads of different varieties, along with orange-infused butter that highlighted the flavors of each. We also got the oil and vinegar (another $2.50), but you can safely skip it — the butter’s where it’s at. (Julia Child would be proud of the gusto with which the butter was consumed.)
Perhaps the real menu highlight, though, was the show’s special cocktail. Doilee’s Delight ($14), a dangerous concoction of booze and fruit and bubbles, went down so smooth, we could’ve happily taken down a barrel of them — but responsibility won out, so we stuck with a few in their prescribed stemware.
Teatro ZinZanni isn’t a walk-in affair — and your choice of seat when making your reservations might be even more important than your choice of entree when you get there. It’s worth the $40 upgrade to move from the lower-priced outer booths into the premium tables. My guest and I sat in the “wedge” (the area nearest the stage; see seating map here), which was lovely, though it meant much turning back and forth depending on whether the act was in the center or the stage. Any of the premium or center tables afford a great view and extensive interaction; and while some people gravitate toward the “inner ring” (the very closest to the center), it’s not clear those tables offer an upgrade deserving of another step higher in price ($169).
If you’re not quite ready for the night to be done when the circus concludes, take heart: some of the performers — with Kent (Doilee, the host) and Horn (the yodeling dominatrix) chief among them — graciously mingle in the lobby after, happy to chat and sass and take photos after the show.
And for goshsakes, wear something shiny. While ZinZanni has no firm dress code — as evidenced by a glance at the next table over, decked out in gym clothes and sandals — it’s a lot more fun if you put some flair into it. Whatever you wear, as long as it’s fun, you won’t be overdressed.
At a starting price of over $100, Teatro ZinZanni isn’t likely a weekly event. But it is a luxurious night out, a special treat, a memorable quick escape from the ordinary and the uninspiring. It’s an adventure that’s impressive for adults, and a dazzling (if lavish) introduction to the arts for children. (If I had a ZinZanni as a child, I mused, perhaps I’d have favored the live arts earlier.) A bit more attention to details and flair in the menu selections would push it from a special evening to a flawless and magical one.
Decadent Delights runs through this weekend, with performances Wednesday through Sunday. Its next show opens the following Thursday: A Night Like This, featuring vocalists Christine Deaver and Cunio; trapeze artists Duo Madrona; dancer/acrobats Nathan & Isis and Ariana Lallone; and, returning from Decadent Delights, Ling Rui (the aerialist) and Vita Radionova (the hula hooped contortionist). See show info and buy tickets here. A Night Like This runs through February 9, 2020 — after which Teatro ZinZanni will take a break for several months while it constructs a permanent structure in its new Woodinville home.
Decadent Delights runs through 9/8 at Teatro ZinZanni’s world headquarters in Woodinville. Tickets are $99-$169 (inclusive of meal, excluding drinks and tip), available here. Accessibility notes: restrooms are gendered and multi-stall; theatre and common areas are wheelchair accessible — please contact venue ahead of time to ensure accessible seating location. View additional venue information here.
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.