Review of The Last Tango starring Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace at the Phoenix Theatre
With the return to our screens of BBC's hugely successful 'Strictly Come Dancing', it's the time of year when ballroom dancing enjoys a renaissance around the country. Frequent Strictly performers Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace are certainly no strangers to the West End when it comes to bringing the fiery passion, drama and impressive movement to live audiences, and their latest production is possibly their greatest stage achievement yet.
It's easy to be cynical about this format, falling in between the stools of traditional musical theatre and dance shows such as Contact or Movin' Out, but this format delights and astonishes audiences who remain in awe at the skill and perfection on offer, and it certainly makes for an entertaining and at times moving evening of impressive performances.
The production is given added theatrical resonance by Morgan Large's inventive and highly imaginative set that creates a robust and expressive atmosphere to frame the whole production. On a split level attic full of memories, the narrative framing device of George, an old man who looks through his possessions as memories are stirred in everything he touches provides an opportunity for a personal story to be told, one that takes in the pre-war innocence of a British seaside summer alongside the emotions of losing a loved one to the horrors of the Second World War. Yes, this framing device is overly saccharine and dutifully earnest, but it serves its purpose – to provide a canvass for Vincent, Flavia and an incredibly dynamic ensemble to do what they do best – dance up a storm.
The simple yet moving narrative provides a necessary structure to the piece that allows different styles of choreography to shine, from Lindy-hop to the jive, from traditional ballroom to the dramatic tango conclusion. Aided by some delicious costumes and lighting design the end result is a rich visual feast that consistently entertains.
Steve Geere's musical direction leads an accomplished live band through a string of recognisable hits which again blends style, period and genre. Hits from Guys and Dolls and Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party sit against the emotive strains of Schindler's List and wartime favourites such as "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy", adding to the eclectic tapestry that the show weaves.
Despite being stars of the show, Vincent and Flavia are a generous leading couple who use their highly skilled ensemble effectively throughout to create a set of high-energy show-stopping routines that highlight each cast members particular dancing skills with exceptional choreography aided by Karen Bruce. For all the narrative gloss and perky optimism the show doesn't overplay its hand until the final number, when the audience are treated to a spectacular encore tango by the masters themselves. Their legs fly with breathtaking skill and coordination that has the audience on the edge of their seats, saving their trump card until the very final moments. Together they burn up the floor with their chemistry and innate passion that is a perfect display of two esteemed performers doing what they do best.
For all the extraneous trappings it's difficult to not be won over by the sheer skill and intense passion that create a perfect tonic for an enchanting evening.