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

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11 May 2012

Rachelle Rak in <i>Heat Wave</i>.
Rachelle Rak in Heat Wave.
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Chita Rivera, Marge Champion, Donna McKechnie and more discuss the nearly forgotten stage and screen choreographer Jack Cole on the opening night of Chet Walker's new revue devoted to the jazzy master.


Queens is having a Heat Wave, a tropical heat wave subtitled The Jack Cole Project. It bowed May 10 "out of town," a little less than 45 minutes from Broadway, at the Queens Theatre (nee Queens Theatre in the Park) and harbors hopes of making that theatrical leap of faith across the river.

A groundbreaking mover-and-shaker of a choreographer for more than four decades, Cole is all but forgotten now. The muse who wore his choreography most brilliantly — Gwen Verdon — extended his afterlife as the tireless keeper of his flame. Since she flickered her last, no one has come forth to take up the torch until now.

Enter an unabashed disciple, director-choreographer Chet Walker, who brought the idea of Fosse to Bob Fosse's family, resulting in the Tony-winning Best Musical of 1999. Hoping for lightning to strike twice, Walker conceived and executed Heat Wave: The Jack Cole Project, a thoughtful re-examination of Cole's unique multi-cultural style of dancing which he relentlessly rattled out of the world globe and re-set to contemporary dance.

Jack Cole

"Jack Cole brings together East Indian, African, Cuban, ballet, lindy to create his technique and his style," Walker contended. "All of that can be put into any different subject. That's what's interesting about someone's technique — their technique can be used in so many different styles."

Media-wise, Cole covered the waterfront — stage, screen and television. Among his 18 Broadway shows were Something for the Boys, Kismet, Jamaica, Donnybrook!, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Man of La Mancha. He worked even more extensively in television, but what Walker has chosen to focus on is Cole's two dozen films.

Granted, a lot of his screen work was second-echelon stuff, but just look at who he was animating. He slipped all the right moves to Betty Grable ("Meet Me After the Show," "Three for the Show"), Rita Hayworth ("Gilda," "Down to Earth," "Tonight and Every Night"), Marilyn Monroe ("Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," "River of No Return," "Let's Make Love" — to say nothing of his uncredited contributions to "There's No Business Like Show Business" and "Some Like It Hot"), Mitzi Gaynor ("The I Don't Care Girl," "Les Girls"), Ann Miller ("Eadie Was a Lady," "The Thrill of Brazil"). He did two versions of "Kismet" (the Marlene Dietrich in '44 and the Dolores Gray in '55) and a harem dance for "David and Bathsheba."

"He understood women," Walker said. "He understood how to do choreography and movement for women to make them sexy and to get them on pedestals."


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