Originating on the streets of Argentina, filtered through European high society, blending African rhythms and immigrant spirit, tango, like a fine perfume, marries sophistication with an undertone of flesh. But if your primary association with tango is corniness, Sombras Tango Cabaret, created and directed by Jorge Niedas and Liz Sung for Tango 21 Dance Theater, with choreography by Niedas and writing by Sung, brings it to another level. You won't see roses clenched in anyone's teeth, but this pastiche of Cabaret and every summer stock show there ever was makes for a mostly cringeworthy evening.
The primary character is cabaret host Fantastik Frank (Trent Oldham), who narrates the evening in a mid-Atlantic accent, just one piece of artifice in his bleached-blond, red-sequined, high-heeled, fishnetted, half-painted ensemble that becomes deeply annoying over the course of the evening. Frank always knew he was "flamboyant" (he says), so he ran away with a Parisian tango company. His chosen family accepts him for who he is, but does he accept himself, he wonders, gazing into a lighted mirror.
The high point of the evening is a lovely barefoot dance to Astor Piazzolla's "Tzigane Tango" by Valentina Muñoz and Jonathan Ropiequet, who incorporate a length of lamé into their duet with grace and ease, almost creating the illusion of floating and twining on aerial silks. Live music by Bob Solone, including some original compositions, is delightful. And KT McCammond, in the role of Frank's long-estranged mother, belts her number with a surety that belies far better experiences. v