Words: “But WAIT! What is Tango?”
This past weekend, Sombras Tango Cabaret opened at The Edge Theater in Chicago. This is actually the 2nd time I’ve seen this production and definitely not my first exposure to the productions of Tango 21 Dance Theater, an organization started by Liz Sung and Jorge Niedas using “the language of Argentine tango to tell original, contemporary stories through live theater.” Sombras Tango Cabaret is their fourth production following El Tango Café, Cambalache: A Holiday Story and Feathers: A Tango Journey.
Liz Sung (Madame Yvonne) and Jorge Niedas (Don Juan): Photo by Linda Kwon.
The story follows Fantastic Frank (Trent Oldham) as both narrator and lead character dressed in red sequins, fishnets and fabulous boots (psst Trent, where did you get those boots? 😉). His story unfolds as he leads us onstage and behind the scenes though a theater production with the Tango Brigade. Though his point of view, the audience gets a survey of the history of tango and all its iterations though live performances whether it’s original music, dance or song. On top of the skilled dancers and a well-rehearsed performance, there is never a dull moment. Fantastic Frank tells of his journey though tango as a way to cope with being outcasted from his family to finding a new tango family and then eventually confronting and reuniting with his past in a full-cast showstopper of “Che tango che”. My only wish was that they had a bigger stage. The Edge Theater is a serious performance space and has been such a supporter of local theater production, but this is TANGO! It needs a theater with flare and pizzaz and SPACE!
L to R_ Hillary Leben as Helga, Valentina Muñoz as The Nymph, Trent Oldham as Fantastik Frank, Dawn Krajcik as Coco, Winita Lau as Miss Minnie: Photo by Linda Kwon.
Now, that’s just my humble opinion. I think it’s a fantastic show and everybody should run out a buy a ticket (Nov 15-17). I’m seeing it again on Sunday. BUT, I am not a theater critic nor am I a tango aficionado, but I am no stranger to Liz Sung, the writer and co-creator of the T21DT productions. Liz and I go way back to art school in the cornfields of central Illinois.
Liz and I at graduation…a long time ago.
We lost touch for a bit when I moved to New York, but when we reconnected back in Chicago, we picked up right where we left off. Liz was a photo major in college so it was natural that she now has her own video production company. Throughout the years, Liz has been a supportive friend and colleague. So when she first told me she was doing tango, my overactive imagination took me to her performing in dance competitions like in the 1996 Japanese movie, “Shall We Dance”. Boy, was I wrong! A couple years ago, I finally attended one of her productions of El Tango Café, I was completely floored that she actually created and wrote not just one, but four whole freakin musicals. This is MY friend!!!! Suddenly I was overwhelmed with joy and pride. GO LIZ! You rock! 😍 Let tango transform you! 🖖🏽
Liz Sung was born in Richmond, Virginia and grew up in Taipei, Taiwan. She attended Taipei American School, then Glenbrook North in Northbrook, IL and obtained her BFA in Photography from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana in 2000. She has her own video production business based in Chicago producing thought provoking videos for non profit organizations such as the Center on Halsted, Equality Illinois and the University of Michigan. Liz has been dancing tango since 2007, and performing and teaching Argentine tango with Tango 21 since 2010. She is co-founder at Tango 21 Dance Theater. As writer and co-creator, she has brought to life four original productions since the company’s founding in 2014. She is currently based in Chicago and the owner of Liz Sung Productions.