It’s an inauspicious start. You begin your visit to the mysterious Teatro ZinZanni via the nondescript entry lobby of the Cambria Hotel in the very heart of The Loop. But it gets exponentially more interesting when you are quickly ushered up to the 14th floor and enter into a once-forgotten, now reclaimed, two-story ballroom that is at once shabbily chic and over-the-top funky glitz. Join the fun by buying one of the steampunk-inspired masks or glitzy costume jewelry offered in the spacious lobby area, further decked out with champagne station and gorgeous full bar. Hosting a holiday party and tired of the same-old, same-old? The whole space can be rented for events of up to 330 guests.
You enter the opulent, mirrored Spiegeltent ZaZou with some trepidation, because unless you’re lucky enough to have visited the original Teatro ZinZanni in Seattle (founded in 1998, it’s still going strong!), you won’t truly know what to expect. Here’s what’s on the menu: Love, Chaos, and Dinner. World-class aerialists, acrobats, comedians, and vocalists combine to produce three hours of pure entertainment — although, fair warning, it isn’t really suitable for younger children.
The ethos of the show is situated somewhere between a retro burlesque and Cirque du Soleil, and employs talented veterans of Cirque, Big Apple Circus, and the Seattle ZinZanni production. Although much of the cast has been brought in for the Chicago show, there are a few local performers as well, including trapeze act Samuel and Sylvia Rose (who do a sultry aerial duet above the awestruck diners) and operatic soprano Kelly Britt. The power vocals and witty repartee of New York City-based Rizo — who bears no small resemblance to Lady Gaga — keeps the audience on their toes. But no one quite tickles your funny bone like The Caesar, the master of ceremonies played by the indefatigable Frank Ferrante. The man is like the Energizer Bunny of comedy, with a zinger for every occasion. His audience interaction bits are pure gold, and he is an equal-opportunity flirter.
But people, this isn’t just a theater/cabaret/circus hybrid … it’s dinner, too. The delicious four-course meal is designed by Debbie Sharpe, the Chicago dining world’s reigning “Goddess.” Normally, you’d find her at her restaurant The Goddess and Grocer, or behind the scenes at the United Center or Lollapalooza, catering for the likes of the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, and Madonna. But now she’s hanging out backstage at Teatro ZinZanni overseeing the hundreds of meals sent out of the kitchen each week. The first menu featured a starter of Edamame and Pea Hummus with crispy lavash and crudités; a green salad with watermelon radish and toasted pumpkin seeds; your choice of Veggie Thai Curry, Herb-Roasted Salmon with Ratatouille, Oven-Roasted Chicken Breast with blistered tomatoes and scalloped potatoes, creamy Bucatini Pasta with Italian Sausage and Peas, or Braised Beef Short Rib with mashed potatoes and roasted carrots. Dessert is a crowd-pleasing vanilla cheesecake topped with caramel sauce and salted caramel popcorn. This is definitely elevated dinner-theater fare.
The next version of the show debuts Oct. 3 with the addition of several new cast members, including world-famous illusionist “The Maestro” Voronin and improvisational humorist Kevin Kent. There’s a new block of tickets currently on sale through March 2020. Shows run Wednesday-Sunday at 7 p.m., with a matinee/brunch on Sundays at noon. Tickets can be purchased here. Let them entertain you!
Julie Chernoff, Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless, and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and counts Northlight Theatre and Les Dames d’Escoffier International as two of her favorite nonprofits.