Opening Nights: Return to Paradise

It happened at the World's Fair.

Teatro ZinZanni's usual fare—a leisurely five-course dinner interspersed with songs, sophisticated circus acts (aerialists, acrobalancers), and audience-participation comedy (which TZZ does like no one else)—is here given a World's Fair theme, set right here in Seattle. This makes for the most random assemblage of characters this side of the Sgt. Pepper cover: Cast members play, or at least represent, Elvis and Priscilla, Bruce Lee, former governor Dixy Lee Ray, and cosmonaut Gherman Titov. Emcee Christine Deaver stars as Gracie Hansen, real-life proprietress of the Fair's "Paradise International" burlesque show, telling the story of her arrival from Morton, Wash., to "save the World's Fair from science" and give visitors something Vegaslike to do after they were done oohing over the Bubbleator. Poured into Louise DiLenge's gaga costumes, Deaver is a bawdy, billowy, and masterful—or mistressful—raconteur. (How great would it be if she just went all out and wrote/starred in a full-length stage show about Hansen's life?) The '60s setting is also a fine excuse to build production numbers around oldies-radio rousers like "Tell Him" and "Burnin' Love." But Return to Paradise also makes welcome room for a more recent tune, the girl-groupy "I Wanna Go" from local pop-rock band Honey Tongue, whose singer Jen Ayers plays chanteuse Linda Emery.

This show's fully satisfying menu, appropriately, goes a little conservative and 1962-ish: beef tenderloin, an iceberg-lettuce wedge salad, chocolate mousse. Yummiest was the butternut-squash soup: sweet, velvety, and comforting, like a fleece Snuggie in a bowl. Among the circus acts, the most stunning, which crossed from athletics to art, is Sam Payne and Sandra Feusi's "Vertical Tango"—exactly that, a tango performed not only on the dance floor but up a pole, with the same steamy body-wrapping and legwork in midair.

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