ZinZanni’s ‘License’ not quite up to speed 

Straying from its reliable faux-operetta structure of comedic chef falls for elusive, sometimes-acrobatic chanteuse, Teatro ZinZanni’s current edition of “License to Kiss II” turns its spotlight on a lone pastry chef in search of the perfect dessert.

While the final souffle falls a tad flat, there are some wonderful ingredients worth savoring in this version of the cabaret, circus and dinner show set in a European spiegeltent on the waterfront, and now in its 11th year.

Regular guest artist Kevin Kent — the characters Cookie and Cliffton Caswell in prior editions — is the screamingly sugary chef.

“Kiss” takes ZinZanni’s gay quotient up several notches. Looking like Bette Davis in “The Virgin Queen” and sounding like Glynis Johns on speed, he prances and dances an extended, hysterical improv pas de deux with a hapless (and hopefully regularly) good-natured male audience member.

Kent is an amazing comic artist, with a rhinestone-encrusted holster full of one-liners ready for rapid-fire delivery. Nothing throws him, from audience kibitzing to wardrobe malfunctions. The sweat and jokes pour off him and he just keeps going.

Unfortunately, with the exception of Sandra Feusi and Sam Payne of Vertical Tango — who continue to amaze and delight, even with repeat viewings — the rest of the production is not quite up to Kent’s level.

Musically it is one of the weaker shows in recent memory.

Missing are the original — or so obscure as to seem original — songs delivered by skilled vocalists. Instead, “Kiss” reheats pallid ballads or one-hit wonders. Even soprano Kristin Clayton falls into the popera trap in her early numbers, though she pulls out all the stops — and gloriously so in her finale aria.

Also missing are the trademark circus performances — tumblers, jugglers, contortionists — who can bring a greater gasp factor to the evening. The overall ZinZanni experience is still a pleasure, but this production just lacks a bit of the customary spice.

Kari Podgorski morphs nicely from wilting flower to aerial siren, and Sweden’s Tobias Larsson is a sweet “unicycling-on-the-tightrope” bear.

Wayne Doba sturdily taps his troubles away and wife Andrea Conway swings from the chandelier again while issuing her should-be-patented giggle. Lutz Jope strikes a great pose, but lacks anything substantial to do.

On the production side, Beaver Bauer has created another crop of glittering costumes, particularly for Clayton’s Valkyrie drag in the finale.

The food, including the plot-setting dessert created by local celebrity chef Yigit Pura and served to “Carmina Burana,” is delicious, and the evening — though not as savory as it can be — will still serve up tasty memories.


License to Kiss II: A Sweet Conspiracy

Teatro ZinZanni, Pier 29, San Francisco

When: 6 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; 5 p.m. Sundays; closes March 6

Tickets: $117 to $145

Contact: (415) 438-2668, www.zinzanni.org

About The Author

Robert Sokol

Robert Sokol

Robert Sokol is the editor at BAYSTAGES, the creative director at VIA MEDIA, and a lifelong arts supporter. Diva wrangler, cinefiler, and occasional saloon singer, he has been touching showbiz all his life. (So far no restraining orders have been issued!)... more
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