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Originally published Monday, March 14, 2011 at 7:01 PM

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Seattle's Teatro ZinZanni woos wider audience with brunch, kids shows and more

How does Seattle's Teatro ZinZanni keeping going? The dinner theater diversifies, with added brunch, late-night and kids shows.

Seattle Times theater critic

PERFORMANCE PREVIEW

Teatro ZinZanni

Coming up: "Radio Free Starlight," through May 8; Mezzo Lunatico, Saturday; Zirkus Fantasmo, March 26 and April 2; Sweet Sunday Brunch, March 27; 222 Mercer St., Seattle; prices vary (206-802-0015 or http://dreams.zinzanni.org).

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A manic guy in a top hat may ask you onstage to scream at him. An Austrian Amazon may leer at you as she sashays by your table. A space alien in a silver bikini might sweetly present you with a toy spaceship.

Sit back, munch your salad, sip your wine, live it up. It's Teatro ZinZanni, after all.

While many local arts groups have cut back in these tough times, Teatro ZinZanni, the Seattle dinner-theater franchise operated by the nonprofit group One Reel, is growing and diversifying.

Fancy-shmancy "Love, Chaos and Dinner" evening shows have been the mainstay of ZinZanni since One Reel head Norm Langill created the concept in 1998. The current show,"Radio Free Starlight," is a typically riotous mélange of aerial stunts and ribald comedy, rock oldies and opera arias.

Now ZinZanni also offers Sunday brunch shows, Latin dance nights and a late-night series called Mezzo Lunatico.

And kids are no longer left behind. Zirkus Fantazmo, a weekend matinee series for families, just launched. The circus-style revue with kid-friendly treats (games, popcorn, cotton candy) runs various dates to May 1 in ZinZanni's antique cabaret tent near Seattle Center, then again in late winter.

And summer is covered with Camp ZinZanni — weeklong workshops for aspiring acrobats, jugglers and clowns, ages 5 to 16.

The idea, notes ZinZanni artistic director Reenie Duff, is to spread the magic by maximizing the company's international and local talent. Many of the artists are alums of Cirque du Soleil and earlier ZinZanni outings (here and at the San Francisco branch).

"A lot of the acts in our night shows can also appear in the brunch and other shows," Duff says. "It's more work for them, it keeps the tent busy, so why let all this great talent go to waste?"

Evening extravaganzas, like "Radio Free Starlight," are still a splurge ($106 per ticket and up). They include a five-course meal and three-hour-plus show, but not drinks or tips. (Military and other discounts are available.)

The late-night and matinee options are drawing in more senior citizens and youth, at lower prices.

The Sunday brunches, sort of ZinZanni Lite, are less risque, half as long, with a full breakfast. The R-rated late-night shows are also less expensive than dinner. And Zirkus Fantazmo starts at $20 for kids, $28 for adults, with munchies and post-show circus workshop.

Duff says corporate parties are fewer now, but tour groups help make up the slack. And ZinZanni remains a popular "special event" celebration for an anniversary, a birthday, a retirement. Since casts and scripts change every few months, there's a high return rate.

A visit to the current "Radio Free Starlight" show confirmed that ZinZanni is keeping up its uniquely zany, continental cachet.

Between the hoofing waiters, the blues-mama hostess (singer Duffy Bishop), the skill acts (our favorite: a phantasmagorical hula-hoop number), the silly jokes and tasty (if modestly portioned) meal (steelhead for me, beef tenderloin with merlot sauce for my friend), ZinZanni still offers a lot of ooh-la-la. And a business plan that keeps adapting to the times.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

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