Center hosts lush entertainment under the tent

Teatro ZinZanni, a tented dinner event that is equal parts Moulin Rouge, Cirque du Soleil and epicurean adventure, is making Costa Mesa its home for the holidays.

"It's an evening of cabaret, circus and dinner, all orchestrated together and full of comedy and spectacle and acrobatics and delicious sights and sounds and a wonderful meal and beverages," tour producer Reenie Duff said. "Everything has a lushness about it — from the venue to the food to the performances. It's really a workout for the senses."

"It's a little unusual in that it's not really the standard production that does the same show every night," Segerstrom Center Executive Vice President Judy Morr said. "It's a variety of cabaret and Cirque-style performances in this incredibly intimate and beautiful Spiegeltent. It's incredibly preserved, and it's almost like being in a fairytale tent from Germany. It's so small — everybody will almost be able to reach out and touch the performers. I'm so used to 2,000 seats at Segerstrom Hall that this is like being in a living room."

ZinZanni host Joel Salom also spoke highly of the effect the venue has on the audience.

"From my experience, it's such a glamorous, refined environment that is a perfect juxtaposition with the absurdity, and there's such a broad palette of skills, or of genres, that somehow meld together in a beautiful way," he said. "It's cabaret, and beautiful music, and opera, and a powerhouse rock blues singer, and French acrobats who are frightening with their skills … Another key ingredient is that it's so intimate and interactive. I'm so grateful to be a part of it.

"I've traveled and worked in lots of different countries, and I haven't come across anything that does it so well, with the quality of food and service and then the interaction between the servers and the show. It's such a submersive kind of experience. It feels like stepping back into another period of time. There's such a commitment to details and costume. You kind of step into it, and it's a whirlwind."

A gourmet five-course dinner with choice of entrée by Patina Catering is included in the admission price.

"We have a 'recipe' or show order that we follow each night, but the audience affects how the show goes every night," Duff said. "This is a great date night, a chance to have a romantic, engaging and intimate evening. It's very impressive that way. The lighting is all theatrical lighting, so everybody looks good in there. [laughs] There's no fourth wall. You can see an artist doing an amazing acrobatic feat seven feet from your table."

Duff said the show is best for kids older than 5, but the show averages three hours with no intermission, there is no reduction in price for children or special children's meal, and the entertainment contains some adult themes similar to what can be seen on prime time television.


A storied history

Housing Teatro ZinZanni in Costa Mesa is the "Palais Nostalgique" Spiegeltent, created about 100 years ago in Europe by a master craftsman. The "mirror tent" has more than 4,000 parts, and was designed for easy assembly and breakdown; it features deep velvets and brocades, stained glass and mahogany.

No two Spiegeltents were exactly the same, and only about 100 of them exist today. The "Palais Nostalgique" tent lasted through World War II by being buried deep underground; it emerged intact, and remains in fine shape today.

A serendipitous set of circumstances led to the arrival of the Spiegeltent in Costa Mesa. It is set up on a parcel of land on the Segerstrom Center for the Arts campus that is destined to be the future home of the Orange County Museum of Art.

"It began when we realized that, while we were waiting for the museum to become a reality and start building, that we had this wonderful opportunity to put some unusual arts activities on the site," Morr said.

These included art projections on the wall of the Segerstrom Concert Hall and the debut of the first tented show on the site, 2010's staging of "Peter Pan."

"And that's when I became enamored with tents," Morr said.

The community's enjoyment of "Peter Pan" led the center to seek out other such shows.

"I was on a mission to find a place to bring our tent," Duff said. "We closed Dec. 31, 2011, in San Francisco."

After spending more than a decade on Pier 29, ZinZanni was the largest of about 80 businesses displaced due to the city's renovation efforts prior to hosting next year's America's Cup yachting race.

"We had to put the tent in storage in San Francisco, so my colleagues charged me with the challenge of seeing if I could find a place to bring the tent for the winter holiday season, which traditionally is our biggest time of year," Duff said.

"We had been talking for years about the L.A. area, but I wasn't getting any bites — I was going to Pasadena, Burbank, Santa Monica. Then somebody we do business with said, 'I remember the "Peter Pan" tent was down on the grounds of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.' So I called and asked them, 'How would you feel about ZinZanni?'"

"As luck would have it, the timing was perfect," Morr said.

The producers invited her to come see the show before it shuttered, and talks immediately began to have the tent and the production shipped south to Orange County. A three-way deal between ZinZanni, the center and Patina was constructed over the next few months.

"It all worked out, and here we are," Duff said.


'Life is a cabaret'

Salom, a multi-faceted performer with skills in comedy, juggling and acrobatics, performed around the world in various circuses and shows. Teatro ZinZanni discovered him at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and the rest is history.

"I kind of keep the whole show together, and run and introduce acts, and do my own acts as well," he said. "I fall in love with an alien as well."

Salom has performed with ZinZanni both in San Francisco and Seattle, and is excited to be part of the group bringing the show south for the first time.

"It's going to be so interesting to see how the Orange County crowd takes it," he said.

"Come with an open mind," Morr said. "And come prepared to participate — because that's part of it too. If you feel inclined, there's always an opportunity for audience members to get involved."

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If You Go

What: Teatro ZinZanni

When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, noon and 7 p.m. Sundays, Wednesday through Dec. 30, 8:30 p.m. Dec. 31, closed Thanksgiving

Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 60

0 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

Cost: $122.85 and higher


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