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'The Jack Cole Project' at Queens Theatre

Jena VanElslander, David Elder, Lindsay Roginski and Kristin

Jena VanElslander, David Elder, Lindsay Roginski and Kristin Piro, left to right, star in "Heat Wave: The Jack Cole Project" at Queens Theatre, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, through May 20, 2012. Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg/

A wall in the lobby of Queens Theatre is plastered with old posters from Hollywood's golden age of musicals. The movies -- from "Les Girls" to "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" -- share one name: Jack Cole.

The most recent of two dozen films represented in "Heat Wave: The Jack Cole Project" -- a world premiere Queens Theatre coproduction -- danced on the silver screen in 1957. Nearly four decades after the choreographer's death, Cole's name is but a footnote in the popular culture he helped shape. That's motivation enough for Chet Walker, who conceived of the project he also directed and choreographed. Previously, he created "Fosse," the Tony-winning homage to the late Bob, another iconic choreographer.

A limber cast of 15 reintroduces us to Cole's signature jazz-infused style. No one thought to bring jazz from smoky uptown joints to the silver screen before. Yet none of the 30 numbers performed on Kelly James Tighe's film-

library set framing a projection screen (designs by Erik Scanlon) seems repetitive.

They range from the Greek dance chorus of strongman acrobats (1947's "Down to Earth") to "The Merry Widow's" naughty "Can Can" (1952) -- all dazzlingly outfitted (costumes by Brad Musgrove).

Act I vignettes tell a story beyond any accompanying lyrics. The elegant David Elder-Jena VanElslander pas de deux from "Three for the Show" (1955) stands on its own even before Lindsay Roginski vocally caresses the ballet with Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me" -- easily the most familiar song in the show. Broadway's Kristin Piro and Rachelle Rak ("Catch Me If You Can") and Elder ("Curtains") take us on a Mideast tour with nuggets from "David and Bathsheba" (1951) and "Kismet" (1955).

Walker quickens the pace in Act II. The stellar orchestra, led by arranger Rick Hip-Flores, switches tempos from the rollicking "Beale Street Blues" ("The I Don't Care Girl," 1953) to the comic "Brother to a Mule" ("Thrill of Brazil," 1946), sung with gender attitude by Nadine Isenegger. The latter is a prime example of what makes "Heat Wave" sound fresh more than a half-century later. Few songs, outside the title tune and the aforementioned Gershwin, are on any current most-requested list. Maybe they will be if this show makes it to Broadway. A big-name star who can dance, plus a nod to 1953's "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," could help. With Marilyn Monroe as the title blonde, it's Cole's greatest hit.

WHAT "Heat Wave: The Jack Cole Project"

WHEN | WHERE 2 and 7:30 p.m. today, 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, Queens Theatre, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park

TICKETS $42-$49

INFO 718-760-0064, queenstheatre.org

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