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
INFO 718-760-0064, queenstheatre.org