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Out of Town

The Old Vic Streams A Double Dose of Beckett, Full of Stars and Void of Natural Tides



In Rough for Theatre II, two administrators named Bertrand and Morvan take time out from their important work to specifically discuss the starry night sky’s glory. It feels pretty much on the mark, these days, to stare off into the heavens and think about life, death, existence, and our place in the world. True to life, the planet and society are on the verge of collapse, or at least flailing about all around us. There’s environmental chaos causing all kinds of catastrophe, and this nasty COVID-19 virus forcing us all to self-isolate inside our homes for safety. It’s a timely treat, even though they didn’t realize it at the time, with Global Warming on our collective mind and pessimism and fear unrelenting in the air, that The Old Vicwould find that connection inside Beckett’s complicated and bleak works of theatrical art. We all know Waiting for Godot, almost all too well. I remember saying to a fellow theatre junkie that I don’t know if I could sit through another production of that play…but I probably will at some point. It is loved by actors, for its playful darkness and its strong abstract intentions, and will most likely come flying back to the stage pushed forward by big named talent desperate to give it a whirl. But these two plays, Endgame and Rough for Theatre II were unknown to me, but now, they will be entwined forever in my COVID-19 memories of confinement, as they connected most wisely to our predicament, staring out the window, wondering if it is safe for us to continue.

Alan Cumming and Daniel Radcliffe seated in Rough for Theatre II at The Old Vic. Photograph: Manuel Harlan

Director Richard Jones sets out with this double bill of one-act Beckett plays with an eye to deviate from many of Beckett’s descriptions, particularly within Endgame, the main attraction for the night of theatre. Visually arresting and verbally vibrant, the two plays, with the formidable team of Alan Cumming and Daniel Radcliffe in the center of the dark comedic spotlight, stand strong even with the alterations made. They vibrate in charismatic inventiveness to one another, playing with conflict and giving us a view into the dismal chaos outside and inside our noisy, angry, scared heads. Starting with the rarely produced short play Rough for Theatre II, Radcliffe and Cumming play bureaucratic celestial servants sent down, up, or over, to discuss the fate of a distressed man standing on an open window’s ledge. We see his back, still against the sky, as he contemplates suicide. His name is, in playful and typical Beckett wickedness, Croker, an obvious playful pun. ‘To croak’ or to die, that is the question of the afternoon. Bertrand, meticulously portrayed by Radcliffe (Public’s Privacy) and Morvan, dynamically portrayed by the cunning Cumming (TNG/Vineyard’s Daddy), administrative angels of life or death, study Croker’s files trying hard to assess through testimonies from those who met him, whether this is the time and place for him to step off the ledge.

Daniel Radcliffe and Alan Cumming in Rough for Theatre II at The Old Vic. Photograph: Manuel Harlan

The man never moves nor does he speak throughout, but the two must work out, or help him decide, if he is to take that leap into the abyss. Life or death, that’s what is in the files and on the pair of identical tables where these two bureaucrats sit. Faulty lamps and wheeled chairs are there waiting for them, stage left and stage right, symmetrical in nature, but the characters are anything but cut from the same cloth. It’s word-play and banter at its best, as they attempt the task of codifying human experience in meaningful terms, interestingly containing shared echoes of both Kafka and Pinter. The two actors flourish in the parts, finding humanity and engagement even as they philosophize over the justification of a man’s difficult life. Radcliffe beautifully finds clinical rigidity within his station, while Cumming becomes increasingly flustered within the dynamic, but their connection never fails the piece. The production, strongly designed by Stewart Laing, finds kinship with the Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter (1957), a play written roughly around the same time Beckett was working on the first draft of this play. To compare, as two temperamentally differing men attend another kind of death, is an exciting mental exercise to roll around in, and one that adds layers of historical complexities to the text inside Rough for Theatre II. The two actors elevate the engagement, captivating us with their complicated comaraderie within their words and scenarios, and helping us to understand the wild and wonderful world of Beckett.

Daniel Radcliffe and Alan Cummings in Endgame. Photograph: Manuel Harlan

Rough for Theatre II is rarely seen or produced, created by Beckett around the same time frame as Endgame. But where Theatre II feels almost kind and engaging in its chatter and demeanor, Endgame projects an unnerving and mean sense of desperation alongside an emptiness of humanity, covered in a red cloth of comic ridiculousness. The apocalyptic nihilism of the construct seems steeped in Beckett’s historical reflection of the aftermath of the second world war and the possible nuclear threat of complete and utter annihilation. But seen now, as we all self-isolate and enclose ourselves in our homes, just like Endgame‘s characters, peeking out the window to see if safety is on the horizon, the parallel processing works its surprising magic most dutifully. Radcliffe embodies with precision and devotion the handicapped Clov, who is an entrapped servant and son-like figure to the brutal and blind Hamm, played with flair and expertise by Cummings. The pair find themselves locked in a complex stalemate of hateful attachment that binds. In this bleakly funny play, Radcliff finds an intense combination of physical comedy and frustration within his impressive deftly-orchestrated movements, finding expansion in the taunting stage directions that demand leaps and bounds from a physically disabled character. He climbs up and down ladders with an awkward style, peering out at the world for comparative inspection, while also finding a physically daunting way to see deep down inside trash bins with a silent hope to find some sort of compassion or connection to humanity, or what’s left of it. I’m honestly not that sure.

Jane Horrocks’ fingers, Karl Johnson, and Alan Cummings in Endgame. Photograph: Manuel Harlan

The wheelchair-bound Hamm sits defiantly, desperate, needy, and harsh to his son-servent while demanding attention and companionship, purposefully forcing discomfort on the young man, knowing full well he will always do as he is told. Stuck in that high chair, he enforces compliance on all, purposefully keeping his elderly parents, miraculously portrayed by Jane Horrocks and Karl Johnson, similarly entrapped in two modern municipal wheelie bins close by. The familial connections to one another are captivating and distressing all at the same time, reminding us that we, as a culture, find unique inadvertent ways to comfort ourselves that we are taking care of our elders, but in reality, they are as disposable as rubbish compared to our self-determined productive ways and means.

Jane Horrocks and Karl Johnson in Endgame. Photograph: Manuel Harlan

Cumming pulls forth all the charisma that he can muster, giving flair to the heartless old tyrant (supposedly those thin legs are not his won, so don’t fret). He delights in his theatrical preening, giving us a different flavor to the man than generally seen. It is interesting to take in that Beckett was undeniably against anyone not following his exact instructions as to how Endgame should be performed. Beckett described a “slow, flat, and metronomic performance” enforced by a metronome literally being used by Beckett to contain and formulate the actors’ speech patterns and tone of voice. Director Jones has decidedly veered away from this construct, letting his actors find humor and intentions outside of the flatness and repetition of the text. His actors expand and even delight in breaking Beckett’s formal stage directions, finding complexities and internalized attachments within the roundabout interactions. It’s a compelling concept, one that certainly adds flavor to an already daunting play that even with this streak of rebellion, tends to drone on and on, reversing and repeating itself for effect and purpose. It’s hard to imagine this world, where there is “no more nature” and the tides have seemingly disappeared, void of this level of heightened flair within their interactions.  I found it difficult to stay tuned in as it is, let alone if they were to speak slow and flat. But would it add to its intended meaning? I’m not so sure, as I struggle to make sense of Beckett on the best of days, even as I simultaneously love the playfulness of his words and personal entanglements.

Alan Cummings in Endgame. Photograph: Manuel Harlan

Compellingly simple but intellectually formidable to embrace, these plays are difficult to unwind but structurally not that complex. Obviously made for the stage, they drive forward on the backs of human interactions, but are hard to dissect. It’s impossible not to reflect on the current human condition and utter madness of confinement that hangs above our heads these days. My buddy and I were supposed to see these plays during our Spring London theatre trip, but the virus put a stop to that. And now we are confined, just like those Endgame characters, trapped within our homes, reflecting on the viral Armageddon and environmental catastrophe that looms just outside our window. Streets and other humans start to feel dangerous. A handshake and proximity could possibly carry illness and death, maybe not to ourselves but to those others we might come in contact with.  In their distrustful framework, Beckett’s Rough for Theatre II and the more celebrated Endgame, Radcliffe and Cumming give us more bleakness than they could have imagined when they entered into this project. They also found a brilliant way to entertain us with Beckett’s wit and paradox. The timely Beckett Double Bill was to play until the 28th of March, but the world had a different plan, one that the early-ended Endgame knew something about before we ever did. So dig into Beckett’s dark and delicious world of word-play, and join these two very fine actors as they play the game of “Samuel Beckett or Eeyore” in the YouTube video below. You’ll be as amazed as they are with the brilliance of both. And don’t forget to donate to The Old Vic or a theatre company near you that you love. They need all the help we can give them, especially now, as we peer out the window like Radcliffe’s Clov, wondering if it is safe to go outside once again.

Daniel Radcliffe and Alan Cummings in Endgame. Photograph: Manuel Harlan

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My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to

Out of Town

Unpacking Frontmezzjunkies’s London Theatrical Trip 0f 2023




It was one of those spontaneous but well-planned cross-Atlantic journeys, fueled by a one-show idea that blossomed into something bigger. Antonio and I (two theatre junkies of the highest order) typically would find ourselves traveling to London, meeting there for about five nights, give or take. That is after I spent one evening with a good old friend and his longtime husband. Which was a personal requirement, and then, Antonio and I would dutifully schedule one theatrical event after the other, building a theatrical plan that would make others weak in the knees. But for the two of us, a London trip was exactly that. As much theater as we could fit in, with a few museums mixed in with at least one tourist attraction that was new to at least one of us. And a lot of great breakfasts made up of coffee and baked goods, as well as dinners with friends or just the two of us. Close to the theatre that was housing that night’s show. That was also a requirement. Born out of one too many breathless runs through Times Square trying to get to that scheduled curtain on time.

This year’s trip started with a casual statement about Andrew Scott doing a one-man Vanya in the West End. And the rest, as they say, is history. What soon followed was a Mark Rylance-starring play, Dr. Semmelweis, courtesy of a long-waiting National Theatre credit from March 2020. Then an immersive Guys and Dolls, and a quick grab at some standing-room-only tickets for a sold-out Next to Normal that we thought we had missed out on until we got that early morning email announcement. An Ian McKellen-starring Frank and Percy soon followed, as did the play Hamnet, based on a book I’ve never really heard of (but it seems many others had, including Antonio).

That was the plan. But I decided to stay even longer than normal. Surprising even myself. Usually, I would EasyJet myself off to some locale in Europe that I’ve never been to before, or to someplace I wanted to revisit after a far too long absence. But this time I just wanted to stay put a wee bit longer. And to give myself some time to see others that I might not have had the chance to see or spend time with. And of course, some more shows followed. The British farce Noises Off and a new musical The Time Traveler’s Wife with friends that weren’t Antonio. A matinee at the National Theatre on the day Antonio would fly home. And a last-minute day-of TKTS purchase in Leicester Square for a musical about an old English woman going to Paris to buy a dress from Dior. I probably wouldn’t have gone to see that one. Maybe I would have seen the Stephen Sondheim songbook show Old Friends starring Bernadette Peters and Lea Salonga, or the recently transferred National Theatresoccer play, Dear England, starring Joseph Fiennes. But the new musical, Flowers for Mrs. Harris starred Jenna Russell, one of my all-time favorites, and that was just too good to resist. So why would I?

So ten shows. In about ten days. Not a record mind you. But a pretty satisfying theatrical and social undertaking. And here are a few words about each of the shows. If you’ve managed to get through this long-winded introduction. So here it is: My London theatre trip of 2023.

London Theatrical Trip 2023





Ian McKellen and Roger Allam in The Other Palace’s Frank and Percy. Photo by Jack Merriman.





Sasha Frost, Felicity Kendal, Alexander Hanson, and Tamzin Outwaite in West End’s Noises Off. Photo by Nobby Clark.



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Can’t Wait For Boop To Come To Broadway



At the CIBC Theatre in Chicago, BOOP! The Musical, the new Broadway-bound musical extravaganza is making its debut . Actress Jasmine Amy Rogers is currently bringing her to life in Chicago, as she proves in this exciting song “Where I Wanna Be”.

The show is created by Tony Award®–winning director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell (Kinky Boots, La Cage aux Folles, Hairspray) who brings the Queen of the Animated Screen to the theater with celebrated multiple-time Grammy®-winning composer David Foster (“I Have Nothing,” “After the Love Is Gone,” “The Prayer”), Tony-nominated lyricist Susan Birkenhead (Working, Jelly’s Last Jam), and Tony-winning bookwriter Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone, The Prom).

I am obsessed with the songs already. First was “Something To Shout About” and now “Where I Wanna Be”.

For almost a century, Betty Boop has won hearts and inspired fans around the world with her trademark looks, voice, and style. Now, in BOOP!, Betty’s dream of an ordinary day off from the super-celebrity in her black-and-white world leads to an extraordinary adventure of color, music, and love in New York City—one that reminds her and the world, “You are capable of amazing things.” Boop-oop-a-doop!

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Out of Town

“The Father and the Assassin” Enlightens and Questions at the National Theatre, London




Weaving together a memory play with a psychological study of epic historical proportions, the National Theatre delivers a mystery revolving most dynamically around a murder up close and personal. Three bullets fired, we are told by our engaging narrator, Godse, portrayed most cleverly by Hiran Abeysekera (RSC’s Hamlet), all by him, but he says it almost triumphantly. “Even you could turn into me,” he also explains, and in that moment I realized that I knew so little about that sad chapter in India’s political history. Other than the headlines, I might add, but more so that there had to be another side to the assassination story of one of the greatest and most well-known Indians who ever lived, Mahatma Gandhi, and I couldn’t stop myself from leaning in to see and understand just what playwright Anupama Chandrasekhar (When The Crows Visit; The Snow Queen) has in store for us.

Let’s not exaggerate,” but those three bullets changed history and shocked the whole world, mainly because of the confusion it elicited. Set against the backdrop of the tumultuous conflict between India and its colonizing oppressors, the British Empire, The Father and the Assassin attempts to both outline the political journey towards Indian independence and give us a closer more intimate look at the man who fired those shots. Chandrasekhar has noted that thousands of books have been written about Gandhi in an attempt to understand and know every aspect of this famed philosopher and political public speaker and writer, yet very little about his assassin, particularly his upbringing and what would bring a man like him to this violent moment. This was the play’s intent.

Any dramatization of history requires a degree of imaginative license,” she tells us in her notes, and here on the grand Olivier Stage of the National Theatre, this epic tale revolves forward revealing an upbringing of disorder and subtle discourse. To understand, or at least attempt to understand the central figure and our narrator, we have to peer back into Godse’s upbringing when his parents, and try to look beyond the act itself. You see, after losing three other boys in their infancy, Godse’s parents sought a somewhat odd religious solution to their situation and his birth. They decided, in order to sidestep what they thought was a curse on their family, to raise their boy as a girl. They would pierce his nose and deliver him into the world as a daughter, forever setting up a conflict that may have caused Godse to be quite lost in his own personal identity, possibly making him far more susceptible to father figures who might give him a structural meaning of self and acceptance.

This is Godse’s conflict story, of inner and outer divisions and betrayal of the father, played out in identity politics of a different order, resulting in some trauma and childish animosities that have their roots in personal relationships as well as, metaphorically speaking, political colonialism. At least, this is what Chandrasekhar tries to deliver forth in this psychological study alongside a complex paradigm for Hindu nationalism, all located in the central figure’s cracked psyche, which, in essence, may have resulted in the 1948 assassination of Gandhi.

It’s an exhilarating explorative adventure, laid out majestically (and somewhat typically) on a set on that grand Olivier stage. Rust-colored and ramped in the round, designed well by set and costume designer Rajha Shakiry (NT’s Trouble In Mind) with grand lighting by Oliver Fenwick (Audible’s Girls and Boys) and a solid sound design by Alexander Caplen (Royal Court’s Over There), The Father and the Assassin unpacks the complicated quest of a young boy to find purpose and an identity that would bring him, first to Gandhi (Paul Bazely) and his unifying movement of peaceful resistance. This dynamic laid out a fatherly framework that would be their undoing, as that relationship was followed by the divisive politics of Vinayak Savarkar (Tony Jayawardena), who built the foundations of the Hindu Mahasabha party pushing a strongly formatted idea of Hindu nationalism as a political ideology, all while serving out a life sentence in the Cellular Jail as a prisoner. It was a switch that changed the world, but one that seems to have been drawn from paternal inclinations and rejection, rather than political identifications.

The large cast of twenty does the piece grand service, as we play along with Godse as he, as a child, supports his family by channeling the goddess as a village fortune teller. It’s a captivating first engagement, as it weaves and rotates into view a childhood filled with obedience, and respect, followed directly by rebellion and political and personal debate.

The Father and the Assassin.
The cast of National Theatre’s The Father and the Assassin. Photograph: Marc Brenner

Hope smells a lot like sandalwood,” we are told, and the play unfolds with precise non-linear structuring that digs us deeper inside this fractured mindset. As directed with clarity and vision by Indhu Rubasingham (59E59/Round House’s Handbagged), the story sings on a whole other range, playing with our sensibilities and understanding of an event that shook the foundations of our world. With a staging that conjures up multitudes of complex psychological images, as well as dialectic themes of political style and belief structures, Godse becomes something of a childlike shell, trying desperately to control his narrative while batting away childhood trauma, embodied well, in contrast, with the peaceful qualities of his open-hearted childhood friend Vimala (Dinita Gohil) and the games they once played.

The play lives and breathes through the essential performance of Abeysekera as Nathuram Godse. The way he moves about is both delicate and angry; aggressive and casual, allowing playfulness to be weaved within the construct of empowerment and weakness of character. His desperation for fatherly and an authentic understanding of his own identity is at the center of this dynamic new play. His put-upon strut of childish resentment and ultimate vindictiveness delivers in the end, with the pulling of the trigger. The Father and the Assassin ends on a note of complications, energizing the room to seek for more clarity and understanding. It’s a complicated ending, leaving you questioning its stance, and making us want to know more. Which I think is precisely the point.

National Theatre’s The Father and the Assassin. Photograph: Marc Brenner

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Out of Town

A Tap Happy White Christmas



Running now through December 31st at the Bucks County Playhouse is a new version of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas – The Musical. Based on the 1954 American musical film directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen, the original stage adaptation of White Christmas opened on Broadway at the Marquis Theatre in 2008 after several successful engagements throughout the United States.

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas from Bucks County Playhouse on Vimeo.

Following a stint in the army, song-and-dance men, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis become one the hottest duos in show business. After a chance meeting, they follow The Haynes Sisters to Vermont where they discover a nearly bankrupt inn run by their former Army commander. With no snow in the forecast, and no tourists in sight, can Wallace, Davis and the Haynes Sisters pull off a yuletide miracle?

A very clever book by David Ives and Paul Blake makes this rather sentimentalized story not seem so sappy. And the addition of some of Irving Berlin’s greatest songs, such as “I Love a Piano”, “Blue Skies”, “Let Yourself Go” and “How Deep is the Ocean?” makes for an evening of humable, memorable tunes. But the most entertaining parts of the show are the dazzling tap numbers choreographed with creative exuberance by Richard Riaz Yoder which keep the leads and the entire ensemble tapping their veritable toes off.

Jeremiah James as Bob Wallace possesses a most mellifluous voice and puts it to good use in “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep”. He also manages to make his curmudgeon of a character appealing. Ashley Blanchet is terrific as Betty Haynes and is exceptional on “Love You Didn’t Do Right By Me/How Deep is the Ocean”. Jarran Muse as Phil Davis, the wolf, is funny and charming and shines in “I Love a Piano” along with Kaitlyn Frank as Judy. Ruth Gottschall is a stand out on “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy”, and is the young Mackenzie Reff who sings the reprise as Susan Waverly. (This role is shared by Tara Rajan who alternates with her.)

Kudos to the small orchestra of seven musicians who under the direction of Jeffrey Campos (who re-orchestrated the score) sound like a full Broadway pit band.

And kudos to the Bucks County Playhouse for having live music in this age of pre-recorded tracks.

Most notably, Hunter Foster must be commended for making this big, behemoth of a show move along at a speedy clip.  

For tickets please visit, call 215-862-2121, or visit the box office at 70 South Main Street, New Hope, PA.

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas – The Musical: Running now through December 31st  at the Bucks County Playhouse, 70 South Main Street, New Hopes, PA  18938

Book by David Ives and Paul Blake

Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin

Choreographed by Richard Riaz Yoder

Directed by Hunter Foster



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Teatro ZinZanni Soars Again in Chicago



When you come to downtown Chicago, there are a few “must see” destinations. There’s the Art Institute. There’s the mirrored Chicago Bean. And now, there’s Teatro ZinZanni. This enthralling, acrobatic, variety show, which originated over twenty years ago in Seattle, is in its second incarnation here in Chicago, post-pandemic, and flying high again.

Aerialist Lea Hinz Photo Credit Samuel Rose @duorosetrapzee

Their new show, Love, Chaos and Dinner, expertly combines  music, circus, arial acts, acrobatics, juggling, and magic. I made my first ever visit to Teatro ZinZanni Chicago this week, and was blown away by the talent and professionalism of this group. It is a dazzling roller coaster ride of non-stop entertainment, not to be missed. Hop on!

The organization of the experience itself is a marvel. Every member of the staff, from the greeter at the door to the servers who dance as they bring you your food between circus acts, is as well rehearsed and professional as the acts themselves. The staff sweeps you through the evening with friendly, polite efficiency. Kudos to the management for assuring that there isn’t a single element of the Teatro ZinZanni experience which isn’t a complete joy.

Aerialist Danila Bim Photo Credit Samuel Rose @duorosetrapzee

The show is presented in a round structure resembling a circus tent, fitted inside the 14th floor of the Cambria Hotel in downtown Chicago. Although it looks large in some ways, it is remarkably intimate at the same time. The tables encircle the performance area, and the performances spill out into the crowd. The clowns and comedians weave through the tables all night as the acts change, making sure there’s never a dull moment.

The individual talents in this show are universally remarkable. Collectively they make a perfect ensemble.

Ulzii Mergen Photo Credit Samuel Rose @duorosetrapzee

The Ringmaster, Michael Evolution, is a master spinner and juggler of basketballs. Ulzii Mergen is a mind-boggling contortionist who seems to be made entirely of very beautiful rubber. Danila Bim hangs from her hair and spins faster than a dental drill. Lithe and lovely Lea Hinz works a large hoop with fluid grace. Cassie Cutler and Oliver Parkinson, known collectively as Duo 19, are a breathtakingly sexy arial duo. Ms. Cutler also does a wonderful job earlier in the show as the show’s featured clown, in a washer woman character resembling Sarah Silverman doing Carol Burnett.

TrapezeDuo 19 Photo Credit Samuel Rose @duorosetrapzee

When I saw the similarly styled Cirque du Soleil, I was impressed by the physical talents of their acrobats. But the work often felt posed, and I was somewhat distanced from the experience by the vastness of the theater. The talented artists of Teatro ZinZanni engaged me in their experience far more. They spin, twist, leap, and contort at speeds and in ways that nearly seem impossible, always surprising, with unerring precision, and unforgettable beauty. It also helps that the performers are so close to you. The intimacy of the experience will make your heart race non-stop with excitement.

Lucy Darling

The “special guest” of the show is the delectable Lucy Darling, the theatrical alter ego of lovely young magician, Carissa Hendricks. She has performed in Chicago several times before, at the Rhapsody Theater and Chicago Magic Lounge, but I’ve always missed her. I became a fan of hers on Fool Us, and was excited to see her live. Her character of Lucy Darling is a modern Mae West with a touch of Marilyn Monroe for good measure. Sly, sexy, seductive, and deceptive, Lucy Darling keeps us laughing and delightfully off balance as she slips into her magic, which is all built around cocktails and bar paraphernalia. You will get drunk on her smile. A toast to her talent!

My only criticism of this show is that they don’t give Ms. Darling a magical enough entrance. In fact, it takes a bit too long before you even know she’s supposed to be a magician. Later in the show, she magically appears from an empty chair in what is otherwise a throwaway transitional moment between acts. It would make a lot more sense if they were to incorporate this magical appearance into her entrance.

Last but not least is the outstanding music which envelops the evening. The central character of Madam ZinZanni, normally played at evening performances by Sa’Rayah, was embodied at the performance I saw by matinee performer Tina Jenkins Crawley. She is a powerhouse singer whose soulful performances were all a delight to hear.

Another musical treat is the live band, lead by the fast-fingered keyboard stylings and expert musical direction of local jazz legend, Theodis Rodgers, Jr. He is matched and supported by top notch performances from Jose Martinez on drums, Jon Negus on woodwinds and keyboard, Phil Seed on guitar, and Chuck Webb on bass guitar. It would have been worth the price of admission just to hear them play.

Finally, this is a dinner theater show. Remarkably, the meal also is quite excellent. It starts with a generous assortment of crudités. The wait staff will suggest a yummy appetizer to keep you going for an hour until the entrees are served. I had the salmon, and my friend had pork, both of which were well prepared. But nothing prepared me for the amazing desert, which featured the most unusual cheesecake and best chocolate mouse I’ve ever had.

I’m someone who likes value for his money, and Teatro ZinZanni gives you that across the board. In every aspect, Teatro ZinZanni delivers a tasty and tasteful experience which you will remember happily long after you leave.

As soon as the show was over, I was ready to come back and see it again. I don’t say that very often!

The next time you are in Chicago, make Teatro ZinZanni your first stop.

Teatro ZinZanni continues open ended Wednesdays through Sundays at the Cambia Hotel, 32 W. Randolph Street in Chicago.  (312) 488-0900.

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