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Originally published Friday, May 9, 2014 at 6:17 AM

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Teatro ZinZanni mixes things up under the Spiegeltent

Dinner-and-a-wacky-show outfit Teatro ZinZanni is offering some new productions to entice visitors and the hometown Seattle crowd.


Seattle Times theater critic

Theater preview

Teatro ZinZanni

222 Mercer St., Seattle; 206-802-0015 or zinzanni.com/seattle.

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The wheel of entertainment fortune twirls round and round. Yet somehow, Teatro ZinZanni can still summon a full house on a Sunday night for the same brand of revels it introduced to Seattle in 1998.

Now on at the circus-cabaret hybrid, with a glittery sprinkling of ooh-la-la: “On the Air,” a three-hour serving of dinner, clowning, music and acrobatics. It features assorted comedy and cirque acts those ZinZanni patrons returning for the second, or 12th, visit have come to delight in and expect.

But ZinZanni has other offerings — including a new late-night attraction that’s something of an experiment.

I have two theories about why TZ has lasted so long, apart from the obvious: the expertise of a rotating international gang of artistes the company features.

There is something in the American (or maybe just the human) psyche that craves diverse diversions — with song, gags, a dab of naughty, a dash of sweet. When vaudeville and variety were king, that was readily available. Later network television made it possible to cheer on talent jamborees hosted by Milton Berle, Ed Sullivan, etc., in the comfort of your own bungalow. Since a radical shift in tastes in the 1970s-’80s, only the late-night talk/variety programs hung on.

But Seattle has taken to its collective bosom the funky derring-do of the annual Moisture Festival and the more upscale but also lighthearted and eclectic Teatro ZinZanni.

My second theory about why TZ keeps ticking: marketing strategy. Founder-artistic director Norman Langill and producer Annie Jamison keep finding ways to repackage ZinZanni acts and artists in shows aimed at different audiences and different budgets.

If it’s the standard, fancy-night-out ZinZanni you want, “On the Air” runs through June 1. It’s not the freshest of TZ theme shows, but it boasts a glam contortionist, a Scandinavian chanteuse, and a trapeze and comedy combo I adore, the irreverent Collins Brothers. And there’s master comic improviser and gender-bender Kevin Kent, who wears parade-float gowns with bawdy élan. (A new dinner show, “When Sparks Fly,” opens June 6.)

The wild card is the new late attraction, “Wake the Night,” with drink, dancing and nibbles on “select” dates (including the remaining Saturdays in May). The talent assembled for this spree of “decadence, revelry and debauchery” (whatever that entails) includes musical-theater enchantress Billie Wildrick and ace improviser Kate Jaeger, among others. Tickets are $20 (compared to $89-plus for dinner shows).

ZinZanni has kids covered, too. Its latest 11 a.m. family matinee on various weekend dates (starting May 10) is “Dream On” — billed as part circus, part rock concert.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com



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