Now playing at Teatro Zinzanni: a Latino-themed 'Caliente' show

May 28, 2012

Teatro Zinzanni, which has been around since 1998, serves up a different kind of dinner theater. Acrobatics as an appetizer. A contortionist with your crudite.

Housed in a red-and-yellow antique mirrored spiegeltent, Zinzanni delivers shows served alongside a five-course meal. The waiters dance. The audience participates. The concept started in Seattle and it was so successful, Zinzanni now also has shows at a venue in San Francisco.

But the show now playing is a first for the venue and it's also more personal for the star performers.

It's called "Caliente." It's Latino-themed, with a mariachi-marimba-J.Lo-Hector Lavoe soundtrack.

Christine Deaver, a longtime Zinzanni performer, co-created the show.

"I thought of Caliente years ago. I am Latin. I'm 'Heinz 57' as my grandmother calls it. I'm part Mexican, Filipino, Spanish, French, German, English, Irish."

Deaver lives in L.A. But she was born and raised in Seattle and the show is in my ways an homage to her mother.

"The songs and the sayings, it's all me growing up in Ballard, which was a Scandinavian neighborhood, with a Mexican mother. And my memories of her.  I remember Saturday mornings she would turn on the Mexican radio station and she would blare mariachi music."

Deaver collaborated on the show with another regular Zinzanni performer -- and friend -- Robert Lopez. Best known as the performer behind El Vez, The Mexican Elvis, Lopez loves putting an edgier spin on popular songs and using music and comedy to provoke audiences.

So in typical Zinzanni fashion, the show's banter is still funny and sometimes bawdy. But the show is more political than previous shows, bringing up subjects like big business, immigration and race.

"It's trying to be subversive to the form of dinner theater, which is usually just about entertaining," Lopez says. The goal here is "still be entertaining, still make you laugh but give you something to gnaw on besides your dinner."

To that end, some of Lopez contributions include rewriting the lyrics to the song "Suspicious Minds." It's now entitled "Immigration Time." They're caught in a trap/they can't walk out/because they're caught behind a border fence/Oh say can you see/Statue of Liberty/these are your homeless, tired and weary.

In the show it's sung by performer Mike Geier.

Lopez performs a song called "Carlos Moreno." It's subject: the lack of racial diversity in the Sunday comics.

Hey Charlie/Porque no Latins in your comic town?/No reference to us can be found/Good grief is your only sound.

Lopez grew up in San Diego and now lives in Seattle.  In "Caliente," he plays Cinco (as in Cinco de Mayo), the older brother of Tres, who is played by Deaver.

Cinco and Tres are a pair of Latino kitchen workers at a dinner cabaret that's just been sold and is about to get shut down. They have one final night so in an act of artistic rebellion, Cinco and Tres help lead the back-of-the-house in putting on a variety show.

The show is directed by Ricardo Salinas, also an expert in using theater to agitate. He's one of the founders of the Chicano performance trio "Culture Clash," which started in 1984 in San Francisco.

"Caliente" plays through June 10.