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

By 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 (2017) by Liza Gennaro The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

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.   

Judy Holliday and Peter Gennaro in the stage production Bells Are Ringing (1956) by Friedman-Abeles The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

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

Bells Are Ringing story The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

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

Peter Gennaro's contract for the original production of West Side Story Peter Gennaro's contract for the original production of West Side StoryOriginal Source: New York Public Library

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

Peter Gennaro's contract for the original production of West Side Story Peter Gennaro's contract for the original production of West Side Story. Page 2Original Source: New York Public Library

Peter Gennaro's contract for the original production of West Side Story Peter Gennaro's contract for the original production of West Side Story. Page 3Original Source: New York Public Library

Peter Gennaro directing Chita Rivera and cast in rehearsal for the stage production West Side Story (1957) by Martha Swope The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

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.

"The lure for Robbins..." The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

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

Chita Rivera and dancers in rehearsal for the stage production West Side Story (1957) by Friedman-Abeles The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Rehearsal for "America"

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

Peter Gennaro (facing upstage), Chita Rivera and cast in rehearsal for the stage production West Side Story (1957) by Friedman-Abeles The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Chita Rivera changing shoes mid-rehearsal.

Chita Rivera and cast in rehearsal for the stage production West Side Story (1957) by Friedman-Abeles The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

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

Chita Rivera and cast in rehearsal for the stage production West Side Story (1957) by Friedman-Abeles The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Dance break continues...

Chita Rivera and cast in rehearsal for the stage production West Side Story (1957) by Friedman-Abeles The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

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.

Chita Rivera and cast in rehearsal for the stage production West Side Story (1957) by Friedman-Abeles The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Liza remembering her father and West Side Story. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

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

Peter Gennaro directing dancers during rehearsal for the stage production West Side Story (1957) by Martha Swope The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

"Dance at the Gym"

Peter Gennaro rehearses  Sharks and Jets in the "Dance at the Gym."

Peter Gennaro directing dancers during rehearsal for the stage production West Side Story (1957) by Martha Swope The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Peter Gennaro directing dancers during rehearsal for the stage production West Side Story (1957) by Martha Swope The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Jerome Robbins confers with dancers during rehearsal for the stage production West Side Story (1957) by Martha Swope The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Robbins and Gennaro together

Photographs document Robbins and Gennaro's collaboration.

Jerome Robbins directing Chita Rivera and dancers in rehearsal for the stage production West Side Story (1957) by Martha Swope The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

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

Peter Gennaro directing dancers in rehearsal for the stage production West Side Story (1957) by Martha Swope The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Gennaro executes the same step as Robbins.

Peter Gennaro directs dancers in rehearsal for the stage production West Side Story (1957) by Friedman-Abeles The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

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

Peter Gennaro directs dancers in rehearsal for the stage production West Side Story (1957) by Friedman-Abeles The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

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

Peter Gennaro directs dancers in rehearsal for the Prologue of the stage production of West Side Story (1957) by Friedman-Abeles The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

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

Jerome Robbins, Peter Gennaro, Chita Rivera and cast in rehearsal for the stage production West Side Story (1957) by Friedman-Abeles The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

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

"When you look back on it." The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

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

Dancers rehearsing for the stage production West Side Story (1957) by Martha Swope The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Choreographer Peter Gennaro working w. Lily, Miss Hannigan and Rooster on a scene from the Toronto production of the musical "Annie." by Martha Swope The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

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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