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TT in the Blue Mountains and Sheldy in New York.

Culture Shock.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Jack Cole

As my dad was a dancer I was fortunate to be raised in a household that revered the work of Jack Cole. Acknowledged as the father of jazz dance in the American musical theatre he is largely unknown to the general public but as Agnes DeMille once said, "Robbins, Fosse, me...we all stole from him". His best known film choreography would probably be for "Gentleman Prefer Blondes" , the stage and film versions of KISMET and Rita Hayworth's iconic "Put the Blame on Mame".
Gwen Verdon was his protege and assistant, Carol Haney, Matt Mattox and Chita Rivera danced for him and he broke tradition by forming a permanent unit of dancers at Columbia Studios who trained rigorously in his Eastern/Indian influenced style and were always ready to perform in any given project.
He also choreographed extensively on Broadway (LA MANCHA, FORUM, KEAN, GREENWILLOW, etc) and headed a groundbreaking nightclub act in the late '40s with Verdon, Ron Field and George & Ethel Martin in his troupe. (see video below)

Chet Walker has admirably attempted to put together an entire evening of Jack Cole's work under the title HEAT WAVE. Opening quietly on the old World's Fair site in Queens, Walker obviously hopes to replicate the success of his earlier award winning dance compendium FOSSE. Unfortunately, the odds are stacked against him this time.
Although Walker has some excellent performers at his disposal (I was especially impressed by Argentinian-born Emanuel Abruzzo)

and he has strenuously trained a core group of young dancers in the unique aggressive Cole style
the fact remains that most of Cole's film work was on rather B-grade musicals starring Betty Grable, Danny Kaye and Rita Hayworth so we are forced to listen to more than two hours of almost unrelieved musical mediocrity such as "What Does an English Girl Think of a Yank?", "No Talent Joe", "Cry and You Cry Alone" and "You Excite Me", all of which I could die happy without ever hearing again.
Another problem is that a little Jack Cole goes a long way, especially when not performed by his own people. Almost all of the routines in HEAT WAVE were originally designed for the camera, so to see number after unmemorable number spread across the stage when the originals were framed as two- or three- shots ultimately disssipates their impact.

And no matter how talented and personable David Elder, Rachelle Rak and Nadine Isenegger are as performers they simply do not have the star wattage of Grable, Hayworth, Monroe and Russell. Especially when those stars were personally coached in their moves by the irreplaceable Gwen Verdon.
There are some wonderful moments: Kristin Piro recreating Verdon's "Harem Dance" from DAVID & BATHSHEBA, Rosie Lani Fiedelman absolutely nailing the Cole attitude and style in her sinuous intro to "I'm Gonna See My Baby", the men making an extremely good fist of "Sing Sing Sing" and Emanuel Abruzzo's ultra stylish leading of the Spanish trio from the Broadway flop CARNIVAL OF FLANDERS. But apart from its archival value (which is immense), HEATWAVE  needs a rethink if it is to win new converts to the holy church of Jack Cole.

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