BWW Review: THE LAST TANGO, Phoenix Theatre, 28 September 2016
With pristine timing, just as Strictly takes to the floor, the third - and final - touring show from former pros Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace makes a stop in the West End. The "last" of the title is more pertinent than the "tango", as this is more of a medley of styles: the ballroom and Latin numbers reminding viewers that the pair were accomplished Ten Dance competitors as well as Argentine tango show champions.
Karen Bruce's slick, fluid production is slightly marred by the cheesy and predictable narrative: traditional courtship, marriage, Second World War separation, children arriving at an alarming rate, and finally death - with a heavenly rumba thrown in.
Teddy Kempner's George (the older version of Simone's character) awkwardly cues numbers with findings from his nostalgia tour of the attic - an evocative but sprawling set from Morgan Large that limits precious floor space. The couple are forced to dodge around lighting rigs during their Viennese waltz, and the energetic group numbers sometimes feel constrained.
But if you can forgive the sentimental memory play framing, there's more than enough to satisfy dance fans: high-voltage swing, rocking jive, serene waltz, angsty flamenco and sunny salsa, with a lively ensemble offering stellar support. The sync work is variable, but there's compensation in the buoyant partnering and winning individual performances, plus some strong singing: the Andrew Sisters homage is particularly charming.
The live band is a real asset, as is vocalist Oliver Darley, whose authentic crooning helps enliven the familiar standards. There are no surprises in music selection - if we're on a boat, naturally it's "Beyond the Sea"; "Let's Raise the Roof" (hopefully not literally) accompanies a house warming; and, of course, "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" makes a wartime appearance - but they're delivered with irresistible sincerity. Strictly designer Vicky Gill provides enviable frocks that add to the escapist MGM aesthetic.
But Simone and Cacace are the big draw here, and this is an effortlessly stylish encapsulation of their long partnership. They're beautifully connected in the ballroom and Latin, and outstanding in the tango, showing a range far beyond the usual sultry brothel variety. There's a lilting tango waltz, a furious display of inventive and intricate footwork, and everything from flirtatious exploration to deep longing and passionate embrace.
While Simone's Italian stallion persona and expressive eyebrows made him a BBC viewer favourite, it's the more understated Cacace who impresses on stage. She's a detailed and eloquent dancer, her beautifully controlled legs alternately lithe, elegant, razor-sharp and lyrical. It's a powerful physical articulation best experienced in the flesh.
Yet one of the standout moments of the show is an encore of a routine seen on Strictly: an ardent, intense tango to "A los Amigos" with a dynamic build. If the narrative (often a stumbling block for dance stage shows; this at least is coherent) doesn't wow, it's hard not to be seduced by the feel-good glow of the production and virtuosic firepower of this partnership.
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan