Sometimes the stars are in perfect alignment and when they’re named Tommy Tune, Liliane Montevecchi, Ariana Lallone, and Tobias Larsson, the result is a Teatro ZinZanni production unlike any that has gone before. With nine-time Tony Award winner Tune as director and Larsson as show developer-choreographer, “Bonsoir Liliane!” is more cabaret than circus and more dancing than death-defying stunts, although there certainly are a few of those.
The legendary Tune, who has been designated a Living Landmark for his acting, directing, and choreography, agreed to take part because “Bonsoir Liliane!” is, at its core, a song-and-dance tribute to ZinZanni veteran Liliane Montevecchi. Tune and Montevecchi have been friends and colleagues for years; both won Tonys for the original Broadway production of "Nine" and worked together in Tune’s "Grand Hotel." Tune has been quoted as saying Montevecchi is “a muse” and his affection for her is obvious in the way he focuses all eyes on her as Montevecchi offers a range of deeply moving songs, from Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” to Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose” and Jacques Brel’s “Le Temps.”
Although the 80-year-old Montevecchi’s voice isn’t what it used to be, she can still wring every drop of emotion from these heart-wrenching lyrics and every cell in her still-gorgeous body seems to breathe love, loss, longing, and wisdom. Montevecchi can also be quite funny as the aging French femme fatale and she does “La Belle Poitrine” (“beautiful breasts” in French) with a wink in her eye that makes her sexual come-ons to the audience the stuff of which men’s dreams are made.
Montevecchi is clearly the centerpiece of this ZinZanni production (which could be her last, though ZinZanni’s producers are mum on this) and the show capitalizes on her beginnings as a ballet dancer in Paris with the addition of former Pacific Northwest Ballet ballerina Ariana Lallone to the cast. Lallone is a natural actor and takes easily to the wackiness and the requirement that she play an instrument (a drum) and sing. Tune and Larsson have created several pure dance numbers that showcase Lallone’s towering physical presence and manage, even in ZinZanni’s confined performing space, to allow her room to spread her wings, literally as well as figuratively.
In one dazzling sequence, Lallone does serpentine turns across a runway-like platform in a billowing silk dress with enormous flowing arm extensions. Only serious dance fans will recognize the influence of modern dance pioneer Loie Fuller, but no matter — the visual effect is stunning. Lallone is equally at home in a gender-bending tango duet with Larsson, who looks remarkably like a young Tommy Tune and is just as tall. Clad in navy pea coats, flowing pants, and stocking caps, Lallone and Larsson appear to be two cigarette-dangling tough guys circling each other, angling for a fight. Then they whip off their caps and we realize the dance has been a seduction, which ends with a passionate embrace.
Although the song and dance numbers dominate “Bonsoir Liliane!” no ZinZanni show would be complete without an over-the-top emcee, a contortionist, and acrobats. As emcee, Kevin Kent gets to strut his best improvisational stuff, identifying audience members he can tease into making fools of themselves, all in good fun. At Friday night’s performance, Kent’s body microphone went out; without missing a beat he enticed a man in the audience to follow him with a hand-held mike that materialized out of nowhere and finished the skit in style.
Vita Radionova provided the requisite elegance and beauty in her hula-hoop and contortionist numbers, but she was overshadowed in the only other circus act by three witty French acrobats, Les Petits Frères. Their piece de resistance comes when they simultaneously fall to the ground from the human tower they’ve built almost to the top of ZinZanni’s tent. You’re sure they’re going to crash face-first into the floor but miraculously they land in a rolling action that has them on their feet in seconds. Rounding out the show are the musical trio Diva and the Dixies (introduced as the “triplets of Bellevue,” a takeoff on the French animated film “Les Triplettes de Belleville”), who provide innocuous musical interludes ranging from “Mr. Sandman” to “Every Beat of Your Heart” and Diva’s (Nancy Emmerich) stirring solo aria “Nessun Dorma.”
Like all ZinZanni productions, “Bonsoir Liliane!” is a collaborative effort, with the entire cast having taken part, to some degree, in the creative process. And like all other ZinZanni shows, “Bonsoir Liliane!” provides a rollicking good time, a delicious meal, and a unique theatrical experience.
If you go: Teatro ZinZanni’s “Bonsoir Liliane!” continues at the spiegeltent, 222 Mercer St., Seattle, through January 29, 2012. Performances are Thursday-Saturday evenings at 6:30 pm, with occasional Wednesdays at 6:30 and Sunday evenings at 5:30 pm. A 90-minute version, Sweet Sunday Brunch, is offered on select dates. Tickets $58-160 at 206-802-0015, http://dreams.zinzanni.org.