Most music lovers know about the terrible fate of Buddy Holly, dead in a plane crash at the height of his fame. Few know and fewer still can remember the death of renowned Argentinian tango singer, Carlos Gardel, who also died in a plane crash at the height of his career. Gardel was a sensational vocalist who tapped into the rage of the tango that the spread around the world in early decades of the Twentieth Century. With a voice of pure gold in a unique style of phrasing, dynamics and a passion that touched the hearts and souls of those who heard it, he created a new song style, tango-canción.
Gardel’s Tango, written, produced and directed by John R. Lacey and now playing the Zephyr Theatre in West Hollywood, tells the story of the rise of Carlos Gardel (sensational actor/singer Anibal Silveyra) from the streets of Buenos Aires to triumph in France and later in Hollywood. His many recordings were hugely popular and are still available at iTunes, Amazon, (https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=carlos+gardel) and elsewhere.
Gardel’s Tango tells of how the singer broke into the tango scene by out-singing the Maestro (Richard Lewis Warren), a cabaret owner and a star in his own right. The Maestro later partnered with him, eventually becoming his manager as Gardel’s fame outstripped his own. Gardel’s collaborator, lyricist Alfredo Le Pera (Agustin Coppola, in a splendid, emotionally true performance) also died in the plane crash along with several musicians.
The character of Carlos Gardel, as presented in this play, is that of an inveterate womanizer who deeply loves his French mother (Hildy Brooks). His long association with Isabel del Valle (the captivating, if undisciplined Mantha Balourdou), is an on-again-off-again affair that eventually dissolves. In the play, he has a vigorous, sexual affair with the Baronessa (Saratoga Ballantine), a tobacco heiress who helps finance his début in Paris.
Anibal Silveyra, with a winning smile and a wealth of charm, is the main reason to see this play. He creates a character that is dreamy, ambitious and amiable. His Gardel is a man of fervent emotions that radiate both in speech and song. With a remarkable range and consummate technique, his interpretation of the Gardel singing style is spot-on.
The chronological story line of Gardel’s Tango, however, seems thin, with characters that, save for Gardel and Le Dera, are sketchy. The play’s action is uneven, and in the later scenes, repetitive. The action is not helped by the frequent, awkward, blackout scene changes, which are due primarily to the limitations of the venue.
The story of Carlos Gardel is certainly a reasonable, even desirable, subject for the stage, which is proven whenever Anibal Silveyra sings. With some changes, Gardel’s Tango could very well be it.
Gardel’s Tango runs through December 18 at Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles.