Teatro ZinZanni tames the zaniness


Dreya Weber, an extraordinary actor, singer and aerialist, lights up the Teatro ZinZanni speigeltent.

I’ll just say it right up front: the first time I saw Teatro ZinZanni, I left the spiegeltent with a raging headache.

That was 10 years ago, and the show was, appropriately, Love, Chaos & Dinner. I’ve been back a number of times over the last decade, and I really started to see a change when Joan Baez joined the show and took over the dual role of hostess and singer. Having one person who could assay both characters with aplomb (not to mention star power) really gave the show some cohesion it sorely needed.

I returned to Pier 29 recently and surprised myself by actively enjoying the show. Director Norman Langill and his team (co-director/choreographer Tobias Larsson, associate director Elise “Mo” Durocher and associate artistic director Reenie Duff) have really tamed the chaos and found a way to balance comedy, audience interaction, music, circus acts and genuine elegance. This latest version, dubbed Hail Caesar, is a fun and classy show.

Much of the credit must go to Dreya Weber, an extraordinary performer who is going Joan Baez one further. Weber plays Cleopatra, the Queen of the Nile resurrected and transported in her sarcophagus to the spiegeltent. She brings with her a potent love spice that sends everyone it touches into tizzies of amour. That’s pretty much it for plot, but that shred is all you really need.

When Weber walks out of that sarcophagus, you notice a couple things right away: she’s gorgeous and Beaver Bauer’s skimpy costume reveals six-pack abs that could slice a diamond. She immediately falls in love with Caesar, not the Roman emperor but the chef de cuisine played by Frank Ferrante (seen at right), an inspired clown. They sing songs, both torchy and comic, composed by Martha Davis of The Motels, and then Weber surprises everyone by climbing onto braided white silks and performing a stunning aerial act that’s like a poetic ritual straight out of Egypt.

Top that, Joan Baez!

Before the soup, salad, entree and dessert courses, Ferrante engages the audience in some sort of interactive play. If that sounds horrifying, don’t worry. Ferrante is funny but also gentle. He doesn’t generate laughs at anyone’s expense, which makes him an ideal host. He’s sharp but not threatening, and he gets some big, big laughs. The most amazing thing on the night I saw him was that no one he dragged out of the audience seemed to regret it afterward.

Virtually all of the performers and routines have their charms. The most exciting acrobatic act is the vertical tango – call it sex on a pole – by Sam Payne and Sandra Feusi (seen at right), two extraordinary midair dancers. Tim Tyler is amusing as the fastidious Mr PP, and Ling Rui and Fang Ming demonstrate impressive feats of strength and flexibility. The five-piece band, led by Russ Long, is a zippy delight, and I was especially pleased to hear them play Weill’s “The Bilbao Song” and “My Ship” as meal underscore.

The most charming moment of the evening comes when most members of the audience join the performers for a slow dance all around the tent. All pretense drops away, and everyone revels in the sheer delight of a calm, romantic dance.

The food has long been my favorite part of the evening, and it remains stellar. But my affection for the show has at long last surpassed my love of the five-course dinner.


Teatro ZinZanni’s Hail Caesar! Is at Pier 29 on The Embarcadero in San Francisco. Shows are at 6pm Wednesdays-Saturdays and 5 pm Sundays. Tickets are $117 to $145. Call 415 438-2668 or visit www.lovezinzanni.org.