In a parallel universe I would not have been born with all the finesse of a Hippo or find myself with two left feet. No, I’d be born to dance and, of all the social dances the one I’d most like to be blisteringly good at is tango. Outrageously passionate, OTT and sexy, it truly lives up to the oft-quoted “Dancing is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire.” What a thing to be good at! There were no Hippos in the stalls seats around us but I fancy, like me, many had come to gulp at dance that we don’t stand a chance of ever doing. That, and to see their Saturday night heros Vincent and Flavia, and also to see if Russell Grant really can shimmy in life as he seemed to on telly. What’s more, hanging above the productions door is Arlene Phillips’s name. All up, a lot of goodwill towards them all and natural expectation too.
The good thing about Midnight Tango is that it doesn’t feel like a production that has been skimped on in any way. The designs (it’s set in a Buenos Aires bar) have a quality look and beautifully integrate in a live band. The stage is also full of dancers – 5 couples + Vincent and Flavia and Russell and the wonderful Tricia Deighton as Russell’s wife. And in Miguel Angel they also have a good singer out front of the 7 piece orchestra. Good ingredients, but so they should be with top-price stalls tickets at £90 + £3 to book. So are these ingredients deployed to good affect? Well I’d hoped for a little more, to be honest.
Nominally Midnight Tango is a “captivating tale of passion and romance”: Vincent (Pablo) and Flavia (Sofia) are together; enter a tall, dark, swarthy stranger who dazzles Flavia, and Vincent has to fight to get her back. End of story really, though in parallel, bar owner, Russell, and his wife rekindle their own love in light-comedy interludes. The Magic Roundabout ran deeper plot lines and so clear is Midnight Tango the programme doesn’t need a synopsis. If you are going to go down the dramatic route then I fancy it needs to be deeper and more interesting than this.
The story unfolds over 30 short musical numbers ranging from Piazzolla to Tom Waits and there are some fine bits of dancing, particularly when everybody forgets about the would-be drama and homes in on the passion of tango itself. The best of Vincent and Flavia comes immediately before the first interval – just them on stage, the lights are lower and the movement seems unforced. It’s them as dance artists rather than trying to tell a story and it thrillingly cuts to the chase. At other times the need to deliver drama seems only to rob the tango steps of all their sultry horizontal overtones.
And can Russell Grant dance? Not really in this production – his is a comedic role for the most part and the sense of rhythmic effervescence we saw on TV is not there. His wife, played by Tricia Deighton, a West End veteran, actually carries a lot of the non-dance dramatic punch of the show and what very great value she is. This is West End musical theatre territory and I’ve never been to the 1000 seat Phoenix Theatre before – it looks freshly and well refurbished, if the 15 minute wait in the cold outside to pick up tickets was not appreciated by any of us – hopefully a one-off.
All up this is a light show, full of good ingredients but which for me only occasionally breaks through to reveal what’s so special about Vincent, Flavia and tango.