October 14, 2008

Teatro ZinZanni Unveils Bawdy Late Show, ‘Cabaret Lunatique’

By Pat Craig

Scenesters -- some off the late-night street, others in the employ and fresh from the wardrobe department of Teatro ZinZanni -- filled the tent lobby of the company's San Francisco Embarcadero venue Saturday. They were excited and a little edgy for something new to do after 11:30 p.m.

Designed for a younger crowd, those not up for the early evening Teatro ZinZanni C-note-plus dinner and show, the experimental late- night show "Cabaret Lunatique" is looser, much bawdier, and features acts that are somewhat less polished than the top-shelf talent that has kept ZinZanni a hot-ticket item eight years after its San Francisco opening.

What the new show may lack in polish, it more than makes up for in brashness and attitude -- language is a little looser, skin is a little more evident and the audience is encouraged to be part of the show. Host El Vez, the Mexican Elvis impersonator who is also performing in the regular show, serves as singing master of ceremonies and calls for frequent dance breaks.

When the dancing starts, performers from the show and ZinZanni cast members who have stayed around for some late-night fun urge audience members to dance and join the Fellini-esque revel everyone is working very hard to ignite inside the tent. There is a sort of pretend decadence to the whole thing; a dress-up party for the over- 21 crowd who seemed to enjoy the interaction with the cast (I, on the other hand, cradled my martini and observed that many of the young ladies present wouldn't have come close to obeying the dress code at my high school, so I was having a good time, too).

Entertainment for the evening was very much in the ZinZanni tradition -- European-style circus acts, with a little more emphasis on the bawdy and burlesque, and quite a bit more blue in the material. Performers included the Finelli Girls, a female circus troupe; and Kitten on the Keys, a pianist and burlesque performer.

"This should be a fun thing, an after-hours thing with a little more edge than the regular ZinZanni performance," said Robert "El Vez" Lopez several days before the first show. "I would like to see it be like Broadway in San Francisco in the '60s; the hungry i, City Lights Books, the Mabuhay, burlesque -- in my mind's eye I see all of those together."

While his vision of the North Beach area blends a few decades, his intent is clear -- creating a type of edgy nightclub experience that is deep in San Francisco tradition dating back to the Barbary Coast era, when clubs like the Bella Union and Bull Run slaked all sorts of appetites.

"It'll be a nightclub with a real mix of things; politics, not super heavy duty, though, to music and all the rest," Lopez said. "I'll be singing a lot of '60s soul and bits throughout the night as I do my emcee job."

Saturday's opener was a bit rough around the edges at times, but it has the promise of being an excellent late-night alternative for those interested in going home well after midnight.

Reach Pat Craig at [email protected] Review-- WHAT: Teatro ZinZanni's "Cabaret Lunatique"-- WHERE: Teatro ZinZanni Tent, Embarcadero at Battery Street, S.F.-- WHEN: 11 p.m. Oct. 25 and Nov. 8-- RUNNING TIME: 3 hours-- TICKETS: $20 cover, food and drinks extra; 415-438-2668, love.zinzanni.org

Originally published by Pat Craig, Contra Costa Times.

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