Photo by Mark Kitaoka
Last week I caught Caliente!, the current show happening at Teatro Zinzanni's beautiful spiegeltent on the Embarcadero which runs through June 19th. I half-suspected this show would be similar their last, License to Kiss, which I thoroughly enjoyed, so imagine my surprise to find out the new show is a completely different beast altogether, though equally full of pleasures.

Caliente!'s story has some nice ironies in that the story is about everyone in a restaurant kitchen being fired when a new corporate boss takes over the business. The parallels to ZinZanni's looming eviction from their current location due to the deal which brings the America's Cup race to San Francisco are present throughout. The kitchen staff decides to put on one last show in an act of defiance and solidarity.

In a nod to reality, the kitchen staff is largely Hispanic (hence the show's title) and the evening is guided by two great leads- Robert Lopez (aka El Vez) and Christine Deaver who aspire to be the Latino Donnie and Marie. There's some funny shtick to all of this, but what really impresses about Caliente! is the extraordinary talents of this particular cast who have physical skills that are simply stunning.

Caliente! truly becomes hot when the vivacious Ukrainian Vita Radionova does an act with Hula Hoops that really has to be seen to believed. I'm not going to say more than that because I despise spoilers, but I was floored by this. It turned out that the show was just getting warmed up (it's a three-hour show). Radionova later returned with Mickael Bajazet to perform one of the most intense, gymnastic-laden salsa dances I've ever seen that burned the floor.
Bajazet is a member of Les Petits Freres, an acrobatic troupe formed in 1993 whose three members are also in the show. Gregory Marquet and Domitil Aillot are the other two components of this jaw-droppingly talented ensemble, who do things I wouldn't have thought possible. What can Marquet can do on a tent pole will simply astound you. On top of their physical skills, these three are adept slapstick comedians. They could easily lead a show of their own- the fact that they're just one component of Caliente! makes it that much stronger.

Ling Rui plays the heartless corporate lackey as all ice and no heart, until near the end of the show he displays a talent that is as impressive as the Freres. A circus performer since the age of 10, with a CV including a stint with Cirque du Soleil, his aerial acrobatics are amazing.

Also on hand is malambo performer Ann Bernard- another Cirque du Soleil alumnae. This was my first exposure to the Argentine art from and I was greatly impressed with Bernard's talents.

Rounding out the cast is Rebekah Del Rio, whose acapella performance of "Llorando" (a Spanish version of Roy Orbison's "Crying") was simply stunning. Del Rio has a voice like Linda Ronstadt's and anyone whose appreciated Ronstadt's Spanish-language recordings will have a new singer to discover. If her name sounds familiar, she was in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive.

Through it all there's Deaver and Lopez guiding it all with skill and superb comedic timing, roping in unsuspecting audience-members (who on this night turned out to be incredibly talented to the extent Penelope thought one must have been a plant, but he wasn't) and mange to make the free-for-all seem spontaneous yet clearly focused.

If you're a local and think ZinZanni is largely for tourists ala Beach Blanket Babylon, think again. This is an incredibly talented company and the current version of the show kicks culo. Discounted tickets can often be found on Goldstar. It's a thoroughly great evening- check it out.

Here's some additional information (repeated from the License to Kiss post, but I think it's worth repeating): Over the past decade, TZ has welcomed more than 1,000,000 guests into the tent. In addition to the regular performances, they have helped organizations raise more than $2,000,000 for charitable causes by providing the tent and services at cost. Organizations who have hosted fundraisers include Sean Penn’s Haitian Relief Organization, Huckleberry House, Bread and Roses, Suicide Prevention League, Chez Panisse Foundation, San Francisco Symphony, and more. This is over and above the thousands of tickets they have donated to countless silent and live auctions, etc. It's not only a great theater company, but like many of the best arts organizations in San Francisco, this is a non-profit arts institution.

In addition to a series of incoming international performers, there is a core group of “performers” who serve as managers, maitre ‘d’s, box office, bartenders, wait staff, etc. Many of these employees joined the Company for what they thought was a temporary job in March of 2000. Ten years later they are a real family – so losing Teatro would be so much more than just losing the show – it would break up this incredible family of employees committed to creating the zany world of ZinZanni through service, or cooking, etc. Anyway, it would be a shame to lose these arts and service jobs in service of….creating jobs and revenue for America’s Cup and billionaire Larry Ellison. The news on the move is this: the city is working closely with Teatro ZinZanni to explore all options and have also been in touch with America’s Cup Organizers to explore any natural tie-ins. The City seems committed to keeping ZinZanni in San Francisco.