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Heat Wave: The Jack Cole Project

This ambitious salute to the late choreographer is only intermittently successful. logo
Jena VanElslander, David Elder, Lindsay Roginski and Kristin Piro in Heat Wave
(© Carol Rosegg)
Before Bob Fosse had strutted across a professional stage or Jerome Robbins had ever choreographed the steps of a Broadway chorus, Jack Cole was revolutionizing the genre of theatrical dance. The likelihood that you don't know his name is what has led Chet Walker to create the ambitious, although only intermittently successful, new show, Heat Wave: The Jack Cole Project at the Queens Theatre.

In Heat Wave, Walker occasionally painstakingly recreates Cole's original staging to celebrate this man, whose work put an indelible stamp on choreography with his angular, sensual, catlike moves, his thrilling leaps, and acrobatic knee slides.

However, for most audiences, much of Cole's work may be unfamiliar. He had relatively few signature hits on Broadway and choreographed only a few truly iconic scenes in films, including dances in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, There's No Business Like Show Business, Kismet, and Gilda.

Unlike the similarly-themed Fosse -- which Walker worked on -- the show does not benefit from the presence of dancers who worked extensively with Cole during his lifetime. (He died in 1974.) And indeed, none of Walker's cast of 13 singer-dancers has the explosive chemistry shown in Cole's best work. Emanuel Abruzzo (who doubles as the male dance captain) and Leeds Hill come off the best, nearly mastering Cole's wildly difficult muscle isolations with apparent ease.

In fact, the two best numbers are performed solely by members of the male ensemble. One is a restaging of the Louis Prima classic "Sing, Sing, Sing" (a song also performed in Fosse), which Cole famously created for a nightclub act he had been honing since the late 1930s.

The other is "Spanish Trio," from Carnival in Flanders, a Broadway flop from 1953 that didn't even open until Cole had left the production. Both are delivered by Walker's men with a sharp precision and confidence that is lacking in the rest of the show.

Two of the lead singers, David Elder and Lindsay Roginksi, have strong pipes, but even they're not able to rise above the technical weaknesses of this production, chief among them a weak pit band and a disgracefully unreliable and static-prone sound system at Queens Theatre.

The show's design is handsome and serviceable. Kelly James Tighe's set follows a celluloid theme, dominated by giant film canisters. And, although a couple of Brad Musgrove's dress designs are unflattering, he has a lot of fun with the shimmery so-called exotica of Cole's Asian-inspired aesthetic, spiced up by frilly harem pants and dresses that put the deco in décolletage.

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