Opening Nights: Hail Caesar!

An outrageous historical time-shift forward for Cleopatra, that ancient, imperious Queen of the Nile, Teatro ZinZanni's new summer show also marks the return of Frank Ferrante, a rowdy improv master and frequent TZZ performer. He stars as Caesar, a wisecracking chef in the present day who falls in love with a resurrected Cleopatra, played by multitalented aerialist/actress/singer Dreya Weber. (If she and those razor-sharp abs look familiar, congrats—you're most likely an exercise buff who bought and actually uses those super-intense P90X workout videos.) Rounding out the spectacle, per TZZ tradition, are several international circus acts and a waitstaff—for the dinner portion of the show—whose delivery of five courses over three-and-a-half hours is so carefully choreographed as to make Canlis look lazy. The menu, designed by Tom Douglas, offers three entrée selections—macadamia nut-encrusted sea scallops, prime beef tenderloin, and Beecher's cheese mushroom strata— executed as well as at an upscale steak house. Between bites and drinks, the story unfolding around you—and above you—goes something like this: Cleo meets Caesar, and they fall madly in love and lust. Caesar then tries to figure out how to keep the power-hungry beauty's admiration without revealing he runs not an empire, but a kitchen. (Mark Antony, Cleopatra's more famous historical lover, is nowhere in sight.) The action stops for songs and cirque performances by supporting entertainers—more eclectic than in past TZZ shows, giving Hail Caesar! more randomness than an episode of America's Got Talent. Standouts include a lanky Aussie by the name of Joel Salom who can juggle and strip at the same time—you have to see it to fully understand it—and local husband-and-wife opera duo Juliana Rambaldi and Victor Benedetti, whose rendition of "Time to Say Goodbye" rivals the original by Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli (if you go for that kind of thing). Caesar's star, however, is Ferrante. If you've never seen him in action before (as in A Rosa de Rio or Bottega ZinZanni), you're missing out. He's a charming ad-libber—seemingly able to incorporate any susceptible audience member into his routine without pissing them off. It's the opposite of insult comedy when he compliments an older woman on her white shock of "Barbara Bush" hair, or serenades a man with a prophet's beard with the "Superstar" chorus from Jesus Christ Superstar. (I was disappointed not to draw his ridicule.) And Ferrante knows his limits: After quipping to a pregnant real-estate agent that she "had a nice development," he shouts to the rest of us, "I know that wasn't funny—but it sure was fast!" Caesar! isn't quite so fast. Indeed, it's cluttered with enjoyable musical detours and cabaret digressions. Cleopatra and her place in Egyptian history are no clearer by the time you've finished your vanilla panna cotta dessert, but you'll be thoroughly entertained, your stomach stuffed. Meaning your P90X video-vixen abs will have to wait for another day.

 
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