"Tango Pasion," a revue at the Longacre Theater that banks on fond memories of "Tango Argentino," offers tackiness in place of the high style that made the earlier show a hit in 1985.
Not surprisingly, you can't go home again. But you can go slumming and for all its lack of taste in concept and decor, "Tango Pasion" can still entice the crowds of aficionados converted to a new craze by "Tango Argentino."
Comparisons are inevitable and the mistake of the latest offering, which uses some of the same grand old musicians known as the Sexteto Mayor but not the same marvelous dancers, is to impose characterization and a tinge of plot where none is needed.
But while the first show's creators, Claudio Segovia and Hector Orezzoli, knew that the passion was in dancing itself, Mel Howard and his collaborators allow some unpersuasive acting to be consistently imposed upon the overchoreographed stage action.
Except for its music, "Tango Pasion" can barely exude a whiff of sincerity. The Argentine dancers, especially the men, include some excellent professionals. But so much dancing is obscured by 1920's period ruffles, bustles and cutaways that all the rapid leg work, foot flicking and elongated slinking is gone before it is impressed upon the eye.
The inspiration, unfortunately, is the painting of an Argentine artist, Richard Carpani, whose grotesque expressionism may look fine in a gallery. But blown-up figures on panels that highlight an anatomical style focused on women's buttocks and breasts create an atmosphere of sleaze rather than stylization. John Falabella, who has designed the sets and costumes, has not translated this inspiration, such as it is, into anything theatrically viable.
Just as tenuous is the idea that Alberto Del Solar, one of the three vocalists (Daniel Bouchet and Yeni Patino are the others) portrays an artist (presumably Mr. Carpani) remembering the dance halls of yore (Act I) and of today (Act II).
The singers, like the instrumentalists led by Jose Libertella and Luiz Stazo ( with Mario Abramovich as the fine violin soloist) hold their own, especially when the scrim in the rear lifts to reveal the accordionlike bandoneons bounced on the knees of their players.
The tango sound is there and the choreographer, Hector Zaraspe, has been hard put to match it. An Argentine who is a prestigious ballet teacher at the Juilliard School, he is at his best in an overt vignette that simulates a billiards game. Armando Orzuza and Fernando Jimenez, who move with ambling urgency but also silky smoothness, are joined here by two young men with a snappy sharp style, Marcelo Bernadaz and Gustavo Russo, as well as the more restrained Osvaldo Cilento and Juan Corvalan.
Tango revues and tango ballets have engendered their own cliches. But look past the obligatory brothel scene and some occasional virtuosity emerges in the ballroom sequences. Jorge Torres and Pilar Alvarez stand out as a team in this respect. Another fine dancer is Alejandra Mantinan, who finally gets to show her stuff and her legs when her partner, in a burst of passion or lust, tears off her skirt. It is that kind of show.