Forever Tango: Theater Review

Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Karina Smirnoff in "Forever Tango"
A widely traveled Argentinean export acquires fresh sparkle in the "Dancing With the Stars" era.

"Dancing With the Stars" duo Karina Smirnoff and Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Latin crooner Gilberto Santa Rosa guest-star in the popular dance show's Broadway return.

NEW YORK – The show is called Forever Tango, and they weren’t kidding with that title. Two-and-a-quarter hours really is a lot of tango time. Like similar revues Tango Argentino and Tango Pasion, this Broadway summer filler’s main challenge is to inject variation into an entertainment built entirely around a single sultry dance tradition, defined by its heightened sense of melodramatic sizzle. But creator-director Luis Bravo’s worldwide hit addresses the fatigue issue by steadily cranking up the degree of difficulty in the routines as the marathon progresses.

First seen in 1994, the show returns at a time when ballroom dancing has enjoyed a massive resurgence in popularity thanks to the flashy exhibitionism of TV contests like Dancing With the Stars. So it was a smart move by producers to recruit two of that show’s adored pros, Karina Smirnoff and Maksim Chmerkovskiy, for a five-week guest spot, as evidenced by the cheers that greeted the duo’s appearances on press night.

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Smirnoff and Chmerkovskiy are about as authentically Argentinean as Tango & Cash, but who cares? The crowd is mad for them, and it’s easy to see why. They’re tall, sinuous and sexy, delivering polished showmanship with effortless charisma. The four routines that feature the duo are among the highlights, in particular a torridly romantic second-act pas de deux that takes the traditional tango moves in a more balletic direction. (I kept thinking Maks in his preening moments looks disturbingly like that irksome Fredrik Eklund on Million Dollar Listings, but I digress.)

Also an audience favorite is guest crooner Gilberto Santa Rosa, aka “El Caballero de la Salsa,” whose appearances seemed to tap into a popular vein of sentimental nostalgia for many in the house. The Puerto Rican bandleader and singer’s impassioned rendition of “Que Alguien Me Diga” serves to unite the entire company onstage for the dynamic Act I closer.

But the guest artists take nothing away from Forever Tango’s eight pairs of regular dance partners, whose focus and vitality are showcased in every number, along with an ability to combine exacting precision with what looks convincingly like spontaneous sensuality. I was less taken with the more theatrical presentations such as a tango rumble with gangsters and molls. However, the duos are consistently impressive, each of them displaying subtle distinctions in style and execution, in choreography attributed to the dancers themselves.

Even if a certain sameness inevitably creeps into the routines from time to time, there’s an erotic charge from watching the female dancers roll around their partners’ stiff torsos and get slung over their backs or dragged across the floor like paralyzed victims of love. Several of the vertiginous dips and soaring lifts in the second-act routines inspired gasps from the audience, while the scissoring legs and gyrating tushes kept reminding me I had Sharknado waiting on the DVR at home. Along with Maks and Karina, the showstoppers are Juan Paulo Horvath and Victoria Galoto, who get primo position in the opening and closing numbers.

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Unlike many other dance styles, there’s an egalitarian aspect to the tango as performed here, with the range of height, weight and age among the cast suggesting that credentials are bestowed less according to physical type than to character and discipline.

Latin rhythm aficionados will also appreciate the spirited musicianship of the 11-piece orchestra, led by Victor Lavallen on one of four bandoneons. The lineup of mostly old geezers – which also includes five string players, a keyboardist and pianist – hints at enduring musical and cultural traditions that run deep in the blood.

Venue: Walter Kerr Theatre, New York (runs through Sept. 15)
Cast: Gilberto Santa Rosa, Karina Smirnoff, Maksim Chmerkovskiy, Victoria Galoto, Juan Paulo Horvath, Marcela Duran, Gaspar Godoy, “Zumo” Leguizamon, Belen Bartolome, Florencia Blanco, Hernan Lazart, Natalia Turelli, Ariel Manzanares, Diego Ortega, Aldana Silveyra, Sebastian Ripoll, Mariana Bojanich, Soledad Buss, Cesar Peral
Director-creator: Luis Bravo
Costume designer: Argemira Affonso
Sound designer: Rolando Obregon
Orchestra director: Victor Lavellen
Arrangements & orchestrations: Lisandro Adrover
Presented by Luis Bravo Productions, Jujamcyn Theaters