If you’ve ever set foot in the Teatro ZinZanni tent, one word comes to mind: sumptuous. Velvet upholstery, heavy drapes, and dark woodwork accent the foyer, cast in rich colors against muted lighting. The “Spiegeltent” itself is a century-old antique from Belgium, where TZZ performers are drawn from the finest cirque ensembles in America and Europe. And this is where TZZ’s latest food-and-variety show, On the Air, opened two weeks ago.
The aesthetic suits the voice of Swedish chanteuse Anki Albertsson. Smoky and rich, her lilting accent makes you think of Marlene Dietrich’s, only warmer. (She’s fluent in English, natch.) When she sings—one of her many stage talents—there’s a hint of Édith Piaf in her inflection. It’s no coincidence that both Dietrich and Piaf spent time in the cabarets of Europe—as did Albertsson.
“How did I come to this crazy tent?” Albertsson wonders during a recent chat at the venue. “Well, I was working as the leading lady at Lido [a famous cabaret in Paris], and I met [ZinZanni alum] Tobias Larsson, a Swedish guy. He said I should come, I would love it here.” She was promptly cast as Frigg, wife of Wotan, in last year’s meandering, Nordic-themed epic Dinner at Wotan’s, (very) loosely based on Wagner’s Ring cycle. Larsson played her son, Thor. Albertsson’s real family, a husband and two teenage children, lives back in Stockholm. An artistic streak runs through it, she explains.
“Far away on my father’s side, we have Ingrid Bergman,” says Albertsson, who started singing when she was 6, growing up in a small town in the south of Sweden. She had “a fantastic voice teacher who didn’t try to push me to some classical kind of thing.” When she was 14, she discovered theater, then musical theater. “I thought, ‘This is fun.’ When you can do both [singing and acting] at the same time.”
She quit school at 17 and became active with a musical-theater show group, then studied dance at the ballet academy in Gothenburg. These studies provided the cornerstone for her multifaceted career on TV and concert and cabaret stages. All told, Albertsson can act, sing, dance, and play guitar and piano, and even wrote her own play—a dramatic rendering of the music of Kurt Weill, one of her favorite composers, titled Berlin-Paris-Hollywood. Her voice has been featured in English-to-Swedish dubbed movies including Wreck-It Ralph, Herbie, Hercules, and Puss in Boots. On the musical stage in Stockholm, she’s performed in A Chorus Line, Chicago, and—of course—the ABBA-inspired musical Mamma Mia. (Albertsson even knows ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus—“so sweet, they’re just like normal guys,” she says of the famed songwriting duo.)
But the TZZ dinner/circus extravaganza-in-the-round is a new challenge for the self-described “restless” performer. “We don’t have this kind of theater in Sweden,” says Albertsson. “Here you have to be in the middle of the audience. You have to be available all the time. Here you play in the center, always having to work [facing the audience].”
Albertsson enjoys the collaborative process of developing story lines with her dozen-odd fellow performers—acrobats, jugglers, comics, and the like—in On the Air’s musical and nostalgic salute to the radio days of yore. “You’re much, much quicker here,” she says. “When I came here, people said ‘Yes’ a lot. I like that. In Sweden, people are like, ‘Let’s think about it . . . ’ I’m like, ‘Can we just do it and try it?’ That’s what I like about [working in] the U.S. I learn by watching the comedians here, they’re always working with the audience. And I love watching the circus people every night. Their bodies, their dedication . . . I’m so impressed.”
On her few days off, Albertsson enjoys walking around Seattle, looking for signs of our Scandinavian heritage: “It’s a little bit Nordic here. I see Swedish names everywhere.” As there will be in the audience, too.
TEATRO ZINZANNI 222 Mercer St., 802-0015, zinzanni.com/seattle. $108 and up. Runs Wed.–Sun. Ends June 1.