PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Heat Wave Gives Choreographer Jack Cole a 21st-Century Spotlight

By Harry Haun
11 May 2012

Chita Rivera and Marge Champion on opening night
"There are only two choreographers who actually created their own dance vocabulary, in my opinion — Martha Graham and Jack Cole," offered Marge Champion. Her Cole brush was "Three for the Show," but the billing squared that off: "Betty Grable, Marge and Gower Champion, Jack Lemmon." That was pretty much the plot. "It was based on an old Jean Arthur movie, 'Too Many Husbands,'" said Champion. "I just stood around like Eve Arden, waiting for Betty to make up her mind who she wanted. It didn't matter too much to me, frankly."

Producer Emanuel Azenberg, who's getting a Lifetime Achievement Tony this year, remembered crossing paths — and swords — with Cole during Foxy, Bert Lahr's 1964 Tony winner: "I was the company manager, and he was the choreographer — but I didn't know he was God, too. He came up to me at the Fisher Theatre in Detroit, and he said, 'You! We're going to have a leaping contest' — he was a little nuts — and I beat him by about a foot and a half, but then I played basketball."

Chita Rivera, bounding back to Broadway this fall in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, had a Cole show with similar literary roots — Zenda, based on Anthony Hope's swashbuckler, "The Prisoner of Zenda." Even with Anne Rogers and two Alfred Drakes, it never got out of California tryouts.

Jacques D'Amboise with Vicki Reiss, Executive Director of the Shubert Foundation

The rest of her work with Cole was on television — "The Sid Caesar Show," etc. — and, on occasion, he was her dancing partner as well. "We had a great, great relationship, but it was scary to work with him," she admitted. "He was very hard, very difficult, very demanding — but that's the only way you're going to get a bunch of dancers to be able to dance brilliantly. That's the only way you're going to get 'em.

"There was nobody like him. There certainly was not a style like his. He created jazz, really, and was responsible for Carol Haney, Gwen Verdon, Matt Mattox, Buzz Miller — all the great dancers and so many great choreographers, including Fosse. They have some of the foundation of Jack. The mere fact that Chet Walker is brave and passionate enough to bring back his work is phenomenal. I saw some of the show three weeks ago, and the dancers are fabulous. Chet actually gave free classes to these dancers to teach them the technique. You can't just get up and do a Jack Cole number. You need technique, like you need technique for Jerry Robbins and Bob Fosse and Michael Kidd. Nobody knows who Jack is, and they should."

If you don't know Jack, then Heat Wave would definitely be the show for you.