Ooh La Liliane
Legendary French Star Makes Her Seattle Debut
Beth Brooks | Jun 1, 2007, 1:35 p.m.
There is a moment early on in the current production at Teatro ZinZanni when Liliane Montevecchi, as the sultry Madame ZinZanni, executes a series of perfect showgirl kicks as she descends a staircase. She chuckles and in an aside says to the audience "Not bad for a senior citizen!"
The moment is pure unadulterated Liliane. It's the point where the audience falls in love with her for the rest of the evening.
And how can they not? This consummate performer is riveting in her current role as the elegant proprietress of the mirror tent, Teatro ZinZanni, a three-hour evening of cirque, comedy and cabaret served up with a five course gourmet feast.
Best known for her Tony Award-winning role in Tommy Tune's Nine and in Grand Hotel, Liliane Montevecchi has been on stage for the past six decades as a dancer, singer and actress.
"Dancing has always been my favorite," she declares emphatically, her heavy French accent rolling her r's with relish. "It always will remain."
Lithe and supple, Liliane's appearance belies her age. As she glides across the mirror tent floor five nights a week at Teatro ZinZanni, she redefines words like "svelte" and "limber." Her skin seems to glow from within. Her eyes twinkle as though she's mastered the secret of good living.
"I have to stretch every day, you see, I'm a dancer" she explains when asked what she does to stay in shape. "And I watch my diet. I like my food steamed but of course I drink champagne and eat oysters as often as I can."
Liliane was dancing with the Roland Petits Ballet in New York when John Houseman spotted her from the audience. When the ballet company was invited to Hollywood to perform in a film, Liliane took Houseman's advice and made a screen test.
"I went back to Paris and five months later they called me and said you can have a seven year contract if you want it. I asked my mother what should I do and she said 'You do what you want' like she always said."
That advice seems to have served Liliane very well. She took the contract with MGM and went on to appear in films with Fred Astaire in Daddy Longlegs, in The Young Lions with Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift, and with Elvis Presley in King Creole, among others. Then she returned to France and joined the Folies Bergere, which also took her to Las Vegas and back to Broadway.
It was on Broadway that Tommy Tune saw her and cast her in Nine, launching her into the new territory of Broadway musicals, with acclaimed appearances in Grand Hotel (Tony nominee) and starring roles in Irma LaDouce, Gigi, Hello, Dolly, and La Plume de Ma Tante, to name just a few. She has performed at Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, and at the Lincoln Center in a concert version of Follies. On television, she guest-starred in more than 20 shows, and received an Emmy nomination for her role in John Frankenheimer's Child of our Time. She has taken her own show On the Boulevard around the world, and played in prestigious cabaret venues including the Algonquin, the Russian Tea Room and Rainbow and Stars. In Paris she received the Boulevard Award for her role as Mistinguett at the Opera Comique. She was knighted by the Knights of Malta for her humanitarian work, and given the title "Dame Montevecchi." Recent film credits include the role of Mrs. DeLauer in How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days.
"He's a very nice young man, that Matthew McConaughy," she says. "He was very sweet to me."
When asked how she finds Seattle, Liliane shivers and then laughs. [Remember, we have had some especially chilly spring days.]
"The weather, it is 'orrible, so cold. But I love the green everywhere and everywhere there are flowers. So much color. I want to explore everything. I want to take a seaplane, ride the Ducks, see every film in the Film Festival, go to the museum, walk along the Puget Sound, it is a lovely city."
Liliane Montevecchi appears at Teatro ZinZanni through August 5, 2007. For information, visit www.zinzanni.org or call 206-802-0015.
This article appeared in the June 2007 issue of Northwest Prime Time, the Puget Sound region’s monthly publication celebrating life after 50.