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Totally “Appropriate” (for our time) and Phenomenally Brilliant, Housed and Unpacked by Coal Mine Theatre Toronto



Every season, to my amazement, there is always that one moment when you feel like you are witnessing something incredible. A theatrical alignment of the stars, when a great play reveals itself, coming to life and to your light before your very eyes. Even when, in this case, we are greeted with such dark vibrating intensity right from the beginning. And that moment is always courtesy of a mass of talented folks doing what they do best, creaking and screeching in an arena that just works. Just like the time I first saw The Lehman Trilogy, The Inheritance, or the epic Angels in America (all of which are going to grace a Toronto stage this coming season). They are moments to remember for a lifetime.

Amy Lee, Raquel Duffy, Andy Trithhardt, and Gray Powell in Coal Mine Theatre’s Appropriate. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

This season, Coal Mine Theatre just might be the one to take that highest of honors with the captivatingly revealing production of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ brilliant play, Appropriate. A play that is both hilariously morbid and disturbing, while being gravely fascinating and meaningful. Using gothic horror as its framework, Appropriate delivers a spectacularly distinct unraveling; intense and threatening in the darkness that initially takes over the space, destined to ensnare anyone who enters, with or without a flashlight. The play feels like a ghost story wrapped in the haunted memories of its vast connection to enslavement, and it plays with that notion that soon gets lodged in our heads, forcing us to squirm in the overpowering static darkness, waiting for what feels like forever before we can start making out the bones of the beginning. In a way the play is actually about ghosts, but not one where the undead will rise up out of the floorboards or appear at the window looking in – even though it always feels like the haunted past is there, floating around or peering in, having its way with us by mystically keeping us perched on the edge of our seats.

But the haunting demons come from within, scattered about the space, seen and unseen, known and ignored, just waiting to be discovered. Not floating down the stairs or up from the basement, but they are as determined as ever to unsettle most, but not all, who open up that one particular chapter of Southern history, and really see what is there. It’s all right there in black and white; jarred and jarring, cataloged and presenting a disturbing time and formulation, even if we are determined to swim in the murky waters of denial. Appropriate is that moment. And what a moment it is, engaging every fiber of my being, and fueling an overwhelming excitement and interest to a higher degree in anticipation of seeing this spectacular play make its Broadway/Second Stage debut starring Sarah Paulson on December 18th at the Hayes Theater in New York City.

Gray Powell, Amy Lee, and Raquel Duffy in Coal Mine Theatre’s Appropriate. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Written with direction and purpose, most intensely, by Jacobs-Jenkins (An Octoroon; Everybody), Appropriate soars on that tiny theatrical stage at Coal Mine, designed with a tight purpose by Rebecca Morris (Lighthouse Festival’s Prairie Nurse) and Steve Lucas (CS’s Heisenberg), who also did the determined lighting design. The play overtakes the limitations with an expert eye for what is at the core of this compelling piece of theatre, shifting its brittle focus as easily as a wandering flashlight. The play won the 2014 Obie Award for Best New American Play, and as directed with clarity by Ted Dykstra (Coal Mine’s The Antipodes), the piece finds its delicious and angry dysfunction in the very bones and hidden remnants of this Lafayette family clan returning. They have all come together, much to the surprise and mistrust of most, to a decaying Arkansas plantation that is “more Gone With the Wind, and less hoarder” to deal with the familial history and their combustive alliances, but, on the more observerable surface, to untangle their recently deceased father’s complicated inheritance and somehow find closure.

That inheritance Is not all there in property and banknotes, laid out in their father’s will, but seared with more force in a bound relic that shines a sharp beam of light on their family’s possible problematic past. Casually found and revealed in distraction, it burns a bright hot light on their parental heritage, pushing to the surface decades of resentment and distrust, that has been ready and waiting for years to be unleashed on one another in a camera’s flash. Historical sin is what lies waiting on the shelf, biting in and drawing forth decades of unsaid venom into the family’s tight dysfunction. Bitterness and a punitive punishment have slowly burned itself steadfastly into their souls. Especially the oldest daughter, Toni, intensely and magnificently played by Raquel Duffy (Soulpepper’s Of Human Bondage). This desperate mother of one carries so much complicated embittered rage that one can’t help but lean in as you simultaneously want to back away out of fear and the instinctual need to protect. Duffy’s performance is a captivatingly stellar and tense unleashing, one that will register and be carried out of the theatre like a bruise on an arm, still stinging from all that hurt and pain that was thrown hard with such vengeance at almost every person in that room.

It’s a searingly difficult comedic drama, crawling in through the window from one of America’s most gifted young playwrights, to deliver the dynamic goods. The three adult children, rotting away from the insides, have come together, unwillingly and with a ton of baggage and resentment. They stand, un-unified, in a protective stance, wanting, in a way, to sort themselves out as they go through the hoarded mementos that their father had gathered around him before his death. But it’s more a collision course over debt and contention, with each carrying secrets from the other and themselves, ultimately determined to be the one who gets out less bruised than when they walked or climbed in. And if this non-typical haunted house has any say in the matter – and boy, does this house have a lot to say and unveil – this explosive reunion is a brawl just waiting to happen. Not the big familial hug that at least some of them are hoping for.

Beyond the recently divorced and rancorous Toni, and her troubled son, Rhys, assertively portrayed by Mackenzie Wojcik (RMTC’s A Christmas Story), her two younger brothers drag out more complications and skeletons than an old house could ever give, even one with both a familial graveyard and an unmarked slave graveyard out back. The older brother to Toni is Bo, the one who, at first, seems to have his business and life in some sort of order, even though he can’t seem to get off his cell phone and find a way to be present. But Toni doesn’t let that get in the way of flinging vile, foul-mouthed anger at Bo, played with detailed determination by Gray Powell (Crow’s Middletown), as his wife, the multi-layered Rachael, played strong by Amy Lee (RMTC’s Pride and Prejudice) orders and yells at their two children; the young fireball, Ainsley, played frantically by Ruari Hamman, and the older “almost an adult” daughter, Cassidy, sweetly and slyly portrayed by Hannah Levinson (TMSC’s Grey Gardens), in a frazzled frenzy of troubled form and function.

Raquel Duffy, Hannah Levinson, Gray Powell, Mackenzie Wojcik, Andy Trithhardt, and Alison Beckwith in Coal Mine Theatre’s Appropriate. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

But it’s Toni’s younger brother, Franz, tightly portrayed by Andy Trithardt (Station Arts’ Prairie Nurse) whose unexplained arrival, with his newly formed flower-child fiancé, River, played to perfection by Alison Beckwith (Driftwood’s Trafalgar 24), that really brings the trauma and the history of this family, drenched in addiction and pedophilia to the surface. Unearthed and dirty, Toni’s unhinged anger rises up quickly, ready to be flung with such hate and fury that it takes work to stay in the room with them. No one trusts anyone in that room, as the secrets and the shame keep rising up from the floorboards ready to sharply splinter and spear the skin with a bloody vengeance. Apologies find no weight in the bitter waters of Toni’s existence as the jarred evidential mementos are ignored and secreted away, much like that flag that just leans in the backroom, begging to be noticed by anyone, but unseen by all, from start to almost finish.

Secrets are thrown about, quickly and with intention, mostly hitting the targets, even when the target is hiding in the darkness. But oddly the longing for love and care, and the undercurrent need for familial attachment sneaks in, even when misdirected. Somewhere, underneath all that anger, bitterness, jealousy, and betrayal, some form of needed connection hangs in the balance, finding relief in an absence or from asked-for hugs. They all just seem scared by all that history and the mistrust that comes with it; terrified and haunted by the idea that it will consume them all. Costumed with skill by Des’ree Gray (Buddies’ The First Stone), with a solid static-intense sound design by Deanna Choi (Stratford’s A Wrinkle in Time) and Michael Wanless (“The Rest is Electric“), Appropriate never lets up, haunting the walls and the rooms with hate and racial disturbances, gobbling up the lives of sweet girls and sugar, as we watch it all crumble to the ground.

Gray Powell, Alison Beckwith, and Raquel Duffy in Coal Mine Theatre’s Appropriate. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Trapped in the intense disturbing sound of screaming cicadas and burned by all those shitty historic memories that have been buried deep for more than just seven years, these “misfit disaster people” swing hard, trying to bring as much damage to the other as they feel inside. Duffy’s Toni delivers the damaged goods with a rage that is wildly and magnificently mesmerizing. Her inner destructive power, unleashed from her pain and longing, is frighteningly clear, and never more apparent, and Appropriate, than inside that final disappearing act delivered on the stairs. It’s a performance that will live on inside me for a long long time, stinging and hurting like the wounds that were inflicted upon her so many years ago, from abandonment and love’s disappointment. Duffy is breathtakingly brilliant in the role, as powerful as the whole decrepit destruction that soon follows. Something I’m still thinking about to this very day.

There was an article in the New York Times this morning as I sat down to work on my review of Coal Mine Theatre‘s Appropriate. And it couldn’t have been more, well, Appropriate. It was entitled, “What Kind of Person Has a Closet Full of Nazi Memorabilia?” And at the edge of all these mismatched crazy memories, laced with blindness, anger, and denial, is the thing that makes Appropriate so fascinatingly magnificent. I’m still trying to unpack the chaotic, complex, and disturbing ending that destructively decays the formula before our very eyes, and the wordless wonder that fills those observing eyes as he takes in and sees what everyone else didn’t want to. Willful blindness is a crazy unhinged power, and also a defense, used to not see the ugly truth that is displayed before us. It’s not an Appropriate response, but in this play, it couldn’t be more Appropriate, especially for the times we live in.

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Gray Powell and Raquel Duffy in Coal Mine Theatre’s Appropriate. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

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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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