Peter Gennaro: the West Side Story you haven't heard

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Co-choreographer of West Side Story (1957). While Peter Gennaro received credit as the  co-choreographer of West Side Story his contribution is seldom acknowledged.This exhibit aims to honor and claim his artistic participation and include him in the historic narrative of this groundbreaking musical.

Liza Gennaro 
 My father, Peter Gennaro was the co-choreographer of West Side Story. Jerome Robbins engaged him on the condition that he agree to a contract relinquishing his rights to all work he created for the show. Historians of West Side Story have reported that Gennaro's work was mostly limited to creating dances for the Sharks in “America” and “Dance at the Gym.” However, this exceptional collection of photographs by Martha Swope and Vandamm Studios and interviews with original cast members offers a more complex understanding of Gennaro’s collaboration with Robbins.   

Peter Gennaro performing "Mu Cha Cha" with Judy Holliday in the original production of Bells Are Ringing (1956).

Liza Gennaro discusses her father's relationship with Jerome Robbins.

Robbins and Gennaro agreed that Gennaro would be listed as “co-choreographer,” but that the copyright for the show would belong exclusively to Robbins.

Historians have reported Gennaro choreographed the musical number "America" and parts of the "Dance at the Gym". Marilyn D'Honau (a Jet) and Liane Plane (a Shark) who worked with him remember him fondly.

Liza Gennaro discusses her father's training at The Katherine Dunham School and his professional relationship with Chita Rivera.

Rehearsal for "America"
These photographs by Vandamm Studios document Gennaro's choreography for the musical number "America."

Chita Rivera changing shoes mid-rehearsal.

Chita Rivera and Shark women perform Dance break from "America".

Dance break continues...

Liza Gennaro reports that after a performance of West Side Story her father was standing in the back of the theatre with Robbins when director George Abbott approached them and congratulated Robbins on the show. He went on to say that he especially loved “America." Robbins gestured to her father and said "this is the young man who choreographed it." Based on that meeting Abbott hired Peter Gennaro to choreograph Fiorello! (1959) for which he received a Tony Nomination for Best Choreography.

Liza Gennaro tells her father's story about choreographing "America."

"Dance at the Gym"
Peter Gennaro rehearses  Sharks and Jets in the "Dance at the Gym."
Robbins and Gennaro together
Photographs document Robbins and Gennaro's collaboration.

Robbins performs a step with Chita Rivera while Gennaro looks on.

Gennaro executes the same step as Robbins.

Gennaro is participating in a rehearsal of the "Prologue", demonstrating the movements of a Jet.

Gennaro (on top) demonstrates a move in the Prologue.

Gennaro "runs" from the scene during rehearsal for the Prologue.

Jerome Robbins and Peter Gennaro with Chita Rivera performing Gennaro's Shark entrance in "Dance at the Gym".

Liza Gennaro discusses why her father agreed to sign the contract that Robbins offered him.

After West Side Story, Gennaro went on to choreograph several Broadway hits including the Pulitzer-Prize winning musical Fiorello! (1959) and the original Broadway production of Annie (1977) for which he won a Tony Award. He is seen here rehearsing "Easy Street" from Annie.

Credits: Story

Curated by Liza Gennaro and Doug Reside.
Photographs by Martha Swope and Vandamm Studios.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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