An October 19th Love Fest for Peter Gennaro!
Members, old friends and new faces came together to honor director/ choreographer Peter Gennaro October 19th, and the raves keep pouring in! The show featured video clips thrown up on a faux television screen, to honor Peter’s TV work, with posters of all his Broadway shows scattered around the set. A sextet of Gennaro dancers performed a portion of one of Peter’s most popular numbers, and like Pajama Game (that gave Peter his first big boost) and 42nd Street – the show had to go on with one of our prize dancers out sick. Co-host Lee Roy Reams fell ill late Monday, so DO40 Pres. John Sefakis stood in for him as co-host with Carol Lawrence and performed in the dance number!
(l. to r.: Liza Gennaro, Carol Lawrence, Chita River, & Moderator Harvey Evans discuss Peter Gennaro’s contribution to West Side Story)
Surprises in the audience abounded! Actress and dancer extraordinaire (AND of course Catwoman!) Julie Newmar attended, as did Jacques D’Amboise and documentary filmmaker Rick McKay (Broadway’s Golden Years).
The three panels captivated the audience and panelists (especially Steve Boockvor) had them rolling in the aisles (well, not literally – THAT would not be a good thing at a DO40 event!). Juliet Seignious offered a more serious note to discuss how Peter could not get her on the Perry Como show in the 60s (no blacks allowed), but he did remember her from that audition and called her later and begin a long and fruitful collaboration on the Ed Sullivan and other variety TV shows.
Iva Withers discussed working with Peter in Guys and Dolls when she replaced star Vivian Blaine. Peter put her in the “Take Back Your Mink” number – back in 1950 – 51! Bill Guske and Larry Fuller commented on how generous Peter was in allowing his dancers to grow and take on choreographic duties. And of course, there were the 5, 6, 7, 8 jokes in Peter’s inimitable “accent;” the cute butt jokes and stories about how Peter would choreograph a number by first deciding on the color of the costumes!
A meeting of the Minds – Harvey Evans, Carol Lawrence and Lee Roy Reams, at an early discussion of the Gennaro event at DO40 President John Sefakis’ home. Also attending, his cat, Shafafa, who took an instant liking to Carol – and from the looks of it, to Lee Roy, as well!
Penny Worth discussed how Peter always looked after his dancers and tried to find them work. Gary Gendell got his dance job after a stint in the army! And Nancy Dalton spoke lovingly of Peter’s kindness and professionalism that permeated each and every rehearsal. Never had any of the panelists had such “painless” rehearsals with a choreographer! Act II began with a restaging (by Liza Gennaro) of a portion of Gennaro’s “The Sophisticates,” with Steve Boockvor, Juliet Seignious, Gary Gendell, Nicole Barth, Penny Worth and DO40 Pres. John Sefakis stepping in for Lee Roy Reams. And Act III, well, what fascinating conversation: Chita Rivera, Carol Lawrence, Harvey Evans (all West Side Story alumni) with Liza Gennaro discussing Peter’s participation and choreographic achievements in that landmark musical.
It was an evening of reminiscences and joy, celebrating the History, the Legacy and the Lives of the dancers of Peter Gennaro and honoring Peter’s contribution to the world of dance. And as is DO40’s custom, the program was filmed and the tape donated to the Jerome Robbins Dance Collection at the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts.
Co-host Carol Lawrence performed an interlude from “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story to open Act III, and explained how Peter had the idea to use a scarf and how the limitations of the stage forced some choreographic decisions to be made – mostly by Carol! The WSS panel even discussed Peter’s contract and how he received his co-choreographer credit. Peter’s contribution to West Side Story was fairly well known in the theater community, but the general public has never really known how much of the choreography was actually his.