'Tanguera: The Tango Musical'

Show represents the creme de la creme of dancers adept at this indigenous form.

Although nominally a musical, “Tanguera,” the dance spectacle briefly on display (through Oct. 18) at City Center, is more a showcase of all that thrills and excites about expert tango dancing — leggy women in fringed dresses, muscled men with hawk faces, the intoxicating rhythms, the seductive music, the rough sex, and oh, yes, the percussive dance steps that flash by your dazzled eyes like bullets. Originated in Argentina, the show features more than 30 homegrown dancers, gorgeously costumed in the stereotypical roles we adore, and representing the creme de la creme of dancers adept at this indigenous form.

The lachrymose storyline (by Diego Romay and Dolores Espeja) is profoundly banal and acknowledged as such by helmer Omar Pacheco’s heavy hand. It’s sufficient, though, to set the scenes in proper locales for the passion of the dance — in the brothels, bedrooms, dark alleys and cheap nightclubs where all the good stuff happens.

Opening in the Port of Buenos Aires where floods of immigrants poured into Argentina at the turn of the last century, show quickly finds its focus in Giselle (the sylph-like Rocio de Los Santos), a lovely French girl looking in vain for the cad who promised to marry her. Despite having fallen instantly in love with a young dockworker named Lorenzo (studly sensation Esteban Domenichini), Giselle allows herself to be rescued by uber-pimp Gaudencio (the solid and scary Oscar Martinez Pey) and the Madam (the legendary Maria Nieves) who keeps his brothel.

After defiling Giselle, Gaudencio puts her to work in his nightclub, where she becomes a favorite of the rough trade. But Lorenzo has not abandoned his beloved, and with the help of his friends, he makes one last brave, foolhardy attempt to rescue her from her degrading job.

The story ends in violence — but you already knew that, since violence is as much an eternal staple of the tango as the neck-lock and the crotch-kick. The fierce and fiery musical numbers provided here by Gerardo Gardelin play directly into that tradition. As does Mora Godoy’s amazing choreography, frenzied in spirit, but studiously composed of those highly stylized individual dance movements that define the genre: the couples’ dances; the lovers’ pas de deux; the competitive threesomes; the all-male dances (with knives and without knives) of friendship and war.

The central story may be skimpy, its only lines of dialogue in the song lyrics (by Eladia Blazquez) robustly delivered by singer Marianella. But in the elemental language of tango, every dance movement is a story and all the dancers are storytellers who narrate the tale with their smoldering eyes, their tense bodies and their flashing feet.

Tanguera: The Tango Musical

NY City Center; 2,000 seats; $95 top

Production

A Michael Brenner for BB Group, Paul Szilard Prods. presentation, under the patronage of Daniel Barenboim, of a musical in one act with book by Diego Romay and Dolores Espeja, lyrics by Eladia Blazquez, original music and arrangements by Gerardo Gardelin. Directed by Omar Pacheco. Choreography, Mora Godoy. Tango arrangements and musical direction, Lisandro Adrover.

Creative

Sets, Valeria Ambrosio; costumes, Cecilia Monti; lighting, Ariel Del Mastro; production stage manager, Todd Clark. Opened, reviewed Oct. 7, 2009. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.

Cast

Madam - Maria Nieves Lorenzo - Esteban Domenichini Giselle - Rocio de Los Santos Gaudencio - Oscar Martinez Pey Singer - Marianella Rengo - Dabel Zanabria
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more