Peter Gennaro, the Broadway dancer who wowed audiences strutting to “Mu Cha Cha” and “Steam Heat” in the 1950s before becoming a successful choreographer of musicals, TV programs and ballets, died Sept. 28.
Mr. Gennaro was 80 and leaves behind many musical theatre credits, including dances created with Jerome Robbins for West Side Story and performances in specialty numbers from The Pajama Game (“Steam Heat,” choreographed by Bob Fosse) and Bells Are Ringing (“Mu Cha Cha,” created by Fosse and Robbins). Mr. Gennaro also choreographed the musicals Fiorello!, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Mr. President, Bajour (a 1965 Tony nomination), Jimmy, Carmelina, Irene and Annie.
Actress Jenn Thompson was 10 when she auditioned for Annie, in the first round of replacements for the celebrated orphans in the 1977 musical based on the comic strip, “Little Orphan Annie.”
“He had a great sense of humor,” Thompson told Playbill On-Line. “He was a joy. He had great style. To me, as a child, he was the epitome of a Broadway show guy: He was funny and fabulous. I remember him from the auditions. He always had an assistant, but he would teach a lot of the combinations himself. I was not a dancer, and he made it seem utterly do-able. He was a taskmaster and made you do it over and over again, but he had a real sense of kids. The enthusiasm that he brought to it was infectious, so you wanted to do it well.”
Annie memorably featured a chorus of orphans banging their scrub brushes and pails to “It’s the Hard Knock Life,” villains strutting confidently — with a hint of sleaze — to “Easy Street” and New Yorkers confronting the immediacy of Times Square as if it were a grand stage, in “N.Y.C.” Mr. Gennaro also choreographed the film version of Meredith Willson’s Unsinkable Molly Brown, whose choreography ranged from stylized European dance to shantytown saloon polkas. On TV, he choreographed musical numbers for the shows of Perry Como, Andy Williams and others, and helmed the Peter Gennaro Dancers.
Mr. Gennaro, whose parents were of Sicilian birth, was born in Metraire, LA, and danced for prizes as a child. After serving in World War II, he made his professional debut with the Chicago-based San Carlo Opera Company — where he met the woman who would become his wife, the dancer Jean Kinsella, who survives him. He later danced in Broadway choruses of Kiss Me, Kate, Guys and Dolls, By the Beautiful Sea and Make Mine Manhattan.
In addition to staging musical numbers on Broadway, for many years he was choreographer of the Radio City Music Hall shows.
Survivors include daughter Liza Gennaro, a dancer and choreographer (Once Upon a Mattress, The Most Happy Fella); and son Michael, who is the Steppenwolf Theater Company’s executive director; a brother and two grandchildren. Mr. Gennaro lived in Manhattan and Oxford, CT, The New York Times reported.
— By Kenneth Jones