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Wednesday, May 9, 2012 - Page updated at 05:00 a.m.

Teatro ZinZanni's 'In Tents' with Recess Monkey is irresistible fun for kids

By Tom Keogh
Special to The Seattle Times

Theater review |

Coldplay and the Red Hot Chili Peppers weren't the only bands to pay tribute during their concerts Saturday to the Beastie Boys' co-founder, Adam Yauch, who died the day before.

One of the more unexpected shout-outs had to be at the Seattle premiere of "In Tents," a new performance for preschool kids featuring Teatro ZinZanni circus stars and Recess Monkey, the pop trio that records and plays original songs for young children.

Just before Recess Monkey's three members — all local schoolteachers — broke into a rap number, bassist-vocalist Jack Forman dedicated the tune to Yauch. Parents gathered inside ZinZanni's enchanting, century-old circus tent cheered the gesture, though their little ones, standing before the stage, seemed more interested in hopping, dancing and spinning around.

How could kids resist? Smart, sweet and high-octane Monkey tunes such as "Popcorn," "Odditorium" and "Lemonade," all featured on the group's latest CD (also called "In Tents"), have infectious energy and sparkling lyrics full of action buzzwords ("pop," "squeeze," etc.) that children love to demonstrate with their hands and bodies.

The band's clipped rhythms, bright jangling sound and good-natured presentation would typically be enough to entertain youngsters. But this ZinZanni mashup of rock show and circus dream is double the fun, especially when Forman and fellow Monkeys Drew Holloway (guitar, vocals) and Daron Henry (drums) join the cast in an extended sketch about mustachioed brothers (one of them played by a girl, 10-year-old acrobat Saffi Watson) who can't seem to get their strongman act together.

Saffi, whose sleek, contortionist maneuvers are enough to make one dial a chiropractor, is definitely a star of this show. She twice gets solo spotlight time, twisting herself (albeit elegantly) into pretzels and dangling perilously from a hoop well above the floor.

(Saffi, please don't fall!)

Joining her is Ariana Lallone, longtime principal dancer for Pacific Northwest Ballet, whose ethereal performance in white robes and portrayal of a wizard in a running story leave an impression.

That story concerns the reluctance of The Bear (Korum Bischoff) to join the Circus Master (a garrulous, fun Peter Pitofsky) in a new act.

Also notable is Sergey Krutikov, the Ukrainian musician and juggler (and a founding artist of Teatro ZinZanni), who amazes with his balancing skills and adds accordion exotica to some Recess Monkey arrangements.

For families who arrive early, there's plenty to do: little games of ring-tossing that cost a couple of bucks, for example. But even without that, this is the kind of show that will easily stick in the memory many years after a kid is done being a kid.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@gmail.com.

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