Tango Argentino -- or more specifically, Tango Argentino with a not-insignificant splash of Tango Ukraino -- is flying high on Broadway once more. Forever Tango is happily ensconced at the Walter Kerr, where it first landed in 1997 for an impressive 13-month run. The show returned in 2004 for four months at the Shubert, but this new edition seems to be packed with more peaks.
The eight tangoing couples that make up the company are supplemented, this time, by three "special guest stars." Singer Gilberto Santa Rosa attained fame in the 1980s, when he was known as "El Caballero de la Salsa." That's what it says in his Playbill bio, anyway, which adds that in 2009 he was named Tropical Artist of the Decade by Billboard. In any case, he had but to step on stage to be greeted with a wall of applause at the press preview attended. What's more, he received the same reception when he returned for his other solos. (The songs, naturally, are in Spanish.)
Also on hand -- surely to help sell tickets and extend the tourist draw -- are Karina Smirnoff and Maksim Chmerkovskiy of Dancing with the Stars fame. While decidedly not Latin, they fit in well; their two solo spots are among the flashiest of the evening, and they lead the ensemble numbers at the end of each act. In addition to heating up the dance floor, Mr. Chmerkovskiy adds a few sly flashes of humor. The dancing couple remains with Forever Tango until August 11; Mr. Santa Rosa departs on July 28. Show is at present scheduled through mid-September.
The core company seems uniformly excellent, although I admit to not being an expert on all things tango. Standing out are Victoria Galoto and Juan Paolo Horvath, who start and end the proceedings with a dance in which they step out of -- and back into -- a life-sized bandoneón. (That's the traditional concertina upon which tango music is built, kind of like an accordion with buttons instead of piano keys.) Galoto and Horvath are also listed as choreographers of the two solos for the "Dancing with the Stars" pair, suggesting that these are actually their dances and will be reclaimed after the stars depart. Also striking are Soledad Buss and César Peral, who appear in just two numbers but are steamily featured on the poster art.
The rest are fine, but the only ones easily identifiable are the two comedy dancers, Natalia Turelli and Ariel Manzanares. They provide much-appreciated humor to the proceedings. (If ever anyone is looking to replicate Michael Jeter's Tony-winning dance in Tommy Tune's Grand Hotel, Mr. Manzanares already has the look and the style and the talent.)
The word "tango" refers not only to the dance but the music, and the music dept. here is superb. So much so that the four instrumental solos are highlights. The eleven-piece orchestra -- including not one but four bandoneóns -- is right out of central casting; eight of them look like they are on the far side of seventy. But oh, how these white-maned men play! Standing out is the lead bandoneón man, 77-year-old Víctor Lavallén, who puts on quite a show. (He is also the musical director.) Jorge Vernieri does an impressive job on the piano, while the cellist featured in an abbreviated concerto for cello and bandoneon is none other than Luis Bravo, Forever Tango's creator, director and producer.
Which leaves us with an important qualification. Fans of the tango -- and there are presumably tens of thousands with access to Broadway -- will presumably enthuse over these talented dancers and the skill they display. Those of you who are not tanglophiles, though, might well overdose. Three or four great tango numbers can spice up the night, but here we have 28 (!) over two-and-a-quarter hours. You might well feel like the banquet-goer offered twenty tasty hors d'oeuvres. Yes they are delicious, some of them incredibly so. But while you are tasting #s 13 and 14, it's difficult to remember just what you found so special about #7 -- even though you made a note to yourself that #7 was remarkable.
Those of you who can't get enough tango are sure to get a lot out of Forever Tango. Those who suspect that their appreciation is limited, though, are likely to find -- by the time intermission rolls by -- that their hunch was correct.