The guest headliners at "Forever Tango" through Aug. 11 are Karina Smirnoff and Maksim Chmerkovskiy, those superstar virtuoso-celebs from "Dancing With the Stars" by way of Ukraine. And their audience-pleasing, hyper-theatrical, show-off numbers are lots of fun -- especially if you appreciate the allure of unbridled ego.
But the real stars of Luis Bravo's "Forever Tango" -- the ones keeping the forever in the tango -- must certainly be the 16 dancers and the 11-piece orchestra now serving as more than mere summer filler on Broadway.
Bravo, whose tango concerts ran 14 months on Broadway in 1997-98 and another four months in 2004, combines the feeling of a very grown-up nightclub with seriously thrilling displays of a dignified and steamy art form.
It's amazing how much variety -- and how much heat -- can come from a man and a woman who hardly look at one another and when they do, they scowl. Tango, which originated in the streets of Argentina and Uruguay in the 1890s, is presented here as an earthy yet elegant glorification of the tension between erotic passion and the bracing restrictions of form.
But first, a word about the wonderful musicians. Onstage against a black backdrop are a pianist and a string quintet and, through July 28, songs by Grammy-winning Spanish love balladeer Gilberto Santa Rosa.
Most of all, there is a bandoneon quartet -- four real pros, men who look as if they've been around the town square a few times, playing small accordionlike concertinas with a suave urgency that resonates through time and cultures.
Most of the tangos lean heavy with excitement on the first beat, then surround the other three beats with complicated ornamentation.
Although the dances vary -- and get increasingly fancy through the program -- the drama is a contest between lines and circles, the contradictory impulses to travel in broad steps across the stage and to corkscrew human holes into the ground.
The men in their tuxedos and fedoras, the women in their long gowns with the deep slits and their Vampira lipstick keep their upper bodies quiet and their hips stuck together as if magnetized.
Almost all the movement -- and there is a seething amount of it -- happens below the knees. A quick backward kick of a stiletto can suggest stories that some theater takes hours to tell.
WHAT "Forever Tango"
WHERE Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 W. 48th St.
INFO $30-$100; 212-239-6200; forevertangoonbroadway.com
BOTTOM LINE Seriously thrilling tango