Dinner Theatre use to be (and still is in some regions) shortened versions of say, Hello Dolly! or Oliver!, with salad bar, buffet entrees and side dishes, and desserts and coffee, often with singing waiters and waitresses. That sort of Dinner Theatre disappeared from Seattle long ago, but a lucrative reinvention of the form reappeared in Seattle a number of years ago and, except for a brief hiatus, is now happily situated on Mercer St. just across from Seattle Rep and Cornish Playhouse. Teatro Zinzanni’s opus’ are flashy circus, opera, musical comedy, and burlesque hybrids hung on a slim book of sorts to give each a different twist or theme, with each running about 12 weeks a year.
Over in Pioneer Square, a more-streamlined, less flashy but increasingly popular competitor, Café Nordo, has found a permanent home in a much tinier venue, but with an eye clearly on attracting the same audience, albeit with a focus on its younger, hipper members.
So, new to Nordo and a regular at Zinzanni, here is what I saw, sipped and supped on this past month.
Teatro Zinzanni is highlighting Hollywood Nights, a sort of “Tinseltownz-a-poppin” farce that is quite the most overall engaging show this writer has seen there in several seasons. Unlike shows which feature familiar and fabulous farceur leads like Frank “Chef Cesar” Ferrante, or Drag Doyenne wunderkind Kevin Kent, Hollywood Nights focuses equally on every member of its company in more or less equal measure. They pull together a rip-roaring show with just enough mild naughtiness for the tired Bellevue businessman, glitz and glamour for the bachelorette parties, and family hour frolic for, well the families in their European Spieltent environment.
Two of the most frequent cast-members, Andrea Conway Doba and real-life spouse Wayne Doba, have their burlie-q pairing as Mitzi (a ditzy but delightful dame) and Dik (her old-time hoofer partner). They always earn high marks bringing vaudeville back alive, and freshening their material on a regular basis.
New to me was Ron Campbell, running the show as Hollywood mogul Cecil B. DeGrille, out to produce epics on a shoestring (potatoes) budget, with a deft and savvy daffiness.
What can one man do with eggs, ping-pong balls, a ukulele, a unicycle, a string bean physique, a Tiny Timish voice and an odd wardrobe? Whatever he does, Mr. P.P (aka Australian comic Tim Tyler) as a benign, unassuming sort of clown, gives his all to it, scoring even with his most baffled audience members.
Hostess Francine Redd, the alleged owner of the joint in this outing, not only sells her sensational Old South styled vocals as vibrantly as ever, but heretofore has never been more cannily used as a deadpan comedienne, and long may she reign.
Terry Crane and Teatro veteran Ben Wendel shine in a high wire act as a vain, egotistical, Hollywood hack and his stunt double, while operatically trained opera diva Julianna Rambaldi broadens her horizons with a screwball comic character and some more poppy vocals in this outing,
Domitil Aillot, sans his two La Petites Frere co-stars, is more impressive here than ever, in what you could call a pole dance, but that wouldn’t near do his circus skills justice. And as savory here as ever, rhythmic gymnast Elena Gatilova adds European flair as DeGrille’s succulent mistress.
Speaking of succulent, the multi-course meal at this superb show was mouth-watering perfection. Courses ranged from an appealing appetizer of a puffed pastry filled with goat cheese, two-olive tapenade and caramelized onion, to select and satiating main course choices of Sirloin Steak, Salmon, or a Vegetarian Portobello. All this plus available wine flights, cocktails and mocktails and a desert of chocolate champagne mousse cake with raspberry, at 3 hours for a show and four star meal
$99-$174 per person seems like a fare value in the current market. Hollywood Nights runs through January 31, 2016 at 222 Mercer St and Third Avenue N. Tickets and information can be found online at zinzanni.com/seattle.
Sauced, the new dinner noir event, sees Café Nordo transformed into the Diamond Club. A Seattle gin joint circa 1930, where an evening of marvelously mood setting riffs on everything from Mickey to Spillane to the Girl Hunt Ballet in The Band Wagon. Creators Terry Podgorski and Erin Brindley know just how to stir this kind of dry martini of a show. Old song classics and impeccably crafted facsimiles are interwoven with a tale of love, lechery, treachery, and murder.
Sauced is narrated by bartender (and pretender?) Saul Needle, played to perfection Ray Tagavilla. The battling owners/lovers are Siano, as troubled Mike Billet, and Peachey as the seemingly stalwart and loyal girlfriend Valerie Rush, whose already testy relationship is tested tremendously by the arrival of an old friend/girlfriend chanteuse improbably named Charlotte Bright (first portrayed by the ineffable and curvaceous, musical theatre favorite Billie Wildrick, in a role just taken over by Faith Howes).
All these super-nova talents, along with a red-hot band seemingly frozen in ice since the 1930’s, with an amazing actor/trumpet player/bar fly named Dash, are directed with both subtlety and panache by Paul Budraitis, sublimely musically directed by Annastasia Workman, and served up as a very well-mixed entertainment cocktail.
The dinner, for my taste, was just average, and not always that. Oddball appetizers, a salad that wasn’t one, and some suspiciously non-vegetarian items were disappointing. The Roast Squab was rather too tough and gamey, though the dessert with meringue was indeed splendid. You may well want to appetizer or dessert it ’til a more rounded and accurate bill of fare is offered, but the drinks all seemed to be the main attraction anyway.
Sauced runs at Café Nordo through December 20th. For tickets or information visit them online at cafenordo.com.
All told, the food fares best at TZ, but the atmosphere is more genuine at Café Nordo, so hey lets call it a toss-up, especially for holiday evenings out, and for those adverse to re-warmed helpings of Scrooge, sugarplum fairies and lonely goatherds.