By John Kubalak
Popular kindiependent rock band Recess Monkey has teamed up with Teatro ZinZanni to create a circus-themed show called In Tents, which supports the release of the band's new album of the same name. The music is Recess Monkey's usual high-energy rock but with the content heavily focused on circus and carnival themes.
I was fortunate enough to take our daughter to an opening weekend show and we were not disappointed. I had been to a similar performance with my son — Teatro ZinZanni’s Big Top Rock (also coincidentally featuring Recess Monkey the day we attended) — so I brought high expectations.
While showtime for In Tents is officially at 11:15 a.m., the fun starts with a pre-show carnival at 10 a.m. At the Big Top Rock show, a similar carnival had been set up in the front lobby, which resulted in a crowded and noisy environment where parents couldn't effectively interact with their kids. This time around, Teatro ZinZanni rectified the situation by splitting the carnival between the front lobby and the main tent. This gave the audience plenty of room to spread out, gave everyone ample access to the carnival games, and generally created a much calmer atmosphere in the lead-up to the show.
To play the games, it's "$2 a ticket and every game's a winner!" They aren't kidding. My daughter raked in an obscene amount of booty. It wasn’t entirely surprising, considering the target audience for these shows is roughly ages 5 to 10 and, at 9, she's at the high end of the spectrum.
A great benefit of attending performances at Teatro ZinZanni is the chance to hang out in the imperial European splendor of the historic spiegeltent, built in Belgium in 1910. The character and atmosphere of the space can transport you to another time and place before any performance has even started.
The old-world charm of the setting might seem incongruous with the staging of a kiddie rock concert, but as the name implies, Recess Monkey's new album, In Tents, has a circus theme and the ZinZanni show designed around the music takes full advantage, creating the feel of a 19th-century gypsy circus.
The music and circus performance blended well. The band — local Seattle elementary school teachers Drew Holloway, Daron Henry, and Jack Forman — provided the high-energy soundtrack for most of the show but took a break near the end to participate in the hijinks as members of the Pitofsky Brothers acrobats before closing out the show with "Human Cannonball" and "Show on the Road."
Standout musical performances included the "Dancing Bear Rap" (dedicated in this performance to MCA of the Beastie Boys), which had the kids dancing around the tent in a conga line, and "Sit and Spin," in which the band encouraged the kids to hold up their imaginary lighters for the power ballad opening of the song. The music is not vintage to the setting but it's also not the Wiggles. Even though Recess Monkey is singing about popcorn and lemonade, the music is happily well suited for adult enjoyment (and sanity during the repeat listening kids insist on).
For me, the highlight of the music and performance came during "Carousel," when ZinZanni performers came out in carousel animal costumes and slowly mimed the movement of a carousel during the dreamlike song while ballerina Ariana Lallone danced in a vast flowing white costume. It was a fantastic combination of elements that transported adults and had the children staring open-mouthed in wonder.
The circus acts were no less impressive. Particularly mind-boggling was 10-year-old Saffi Watson, one of ZinZanni's “circus stars of tomorrow,” who performed amazing contortions both on the rising center stage as well as in the air above it in an aerial ring.
Sergey Krutikov, one of ZinZanni's founding artists, performed some astounding hat juggling, sprinkled a little magic throughout the show, and accompanied the band on accordion. Korum Bischoff was highly entertaining for the kids as the dancing bear, and Peter Pitofsky led the show as the comical ringmaster and leader of the Pitofsky Brothers acrobats.
There will be seven more shows running through July 15. I highly recommend you make time to check it out.
If you go . . .
Where: Teatro ZinZanni, 222 Mercer Street, Seattle
When: May 5, 6, 12, 19; June 2, 23, 24; July 14, 15. all shows run from 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m.; doors open at 10 a.m. for a pre-show carnival.
Tickets: $19-$22. Buy at dreams.zinzanni.org or call the box office at 206-802-0015.