November 7, 1997
Broadway dancer to receive the Distinguished Guest Artist Award
by Reid Wick, Publicity Coordinator for the College of Music
The College of Music will present the 1997-98 Distinguished Guest Artist Award to world-renowned Broadway dancer/choreographer Peter Gennaro. In celebration, the Loyola Ballet, under the direction of Gayle Parmelee, will perform his works in a program titled "Ballet & Broadway." The concerts are set for November 21-22 in Roussel Hall. The award will be presented to Gennaro during the performance on Friday, November 21.
Peter Gennaro was born in Metairie. He entertained overseas in India, Burma, and China during World War II. With the end of the war, the jazz dancer, who was determined that what he wanted more than anything was to dance, decided to move to New York City to study with the American Theatre Wing. He always maintained a primary interest in jazz dancing, but he considered ballet necessary basic training for any dancing career. In 1946, he enrolled at the Katherine Dunham School in New York City. While studying there he took part in many student performances, was hired temporarily by the San Carlo Opera Company in Chicago, and met Jean Kinsella, a fellow dancer, whom he married.
In October 1949, he made a triumphant return to New Orleans in the title role of the New Orleans Opera House Association production of Petrouchka, costarring with his wife and Charles Arnett, who played the Moor. Although Gennaro had become world-renowned in jazz dancing, his performance in Petrouchka marked one of the greatest moments in American classic ballet.
Upon their return to New York, Gennaro and Kinsella appeared in such Broadway musicals as Make Mine Manhattan, Kiss Me, Kate, and Arms and the Girl. His first solo work was in Pretty Penny, following his appearance for three years in the Broadway hits Guys and Dolls and Bells Are Ringing. He skyrocketed to national fame in Broadway's Pajama Game, wherein his "Steam Heat" number, danced with Carol Haney, was one of show business' greatest show-stoppers.
He was a choreographer for Seventh Heaven, West Side Story, Fiorello, Mr. President, Bajour, and Jimmy. His choreographing of The Unsinkable Molly Brown on Broadway was followed by his similar role in the MGM motion picture, a major highlight of the 1964-65 season.
In 1960, he rose to television preeminence with his brilliant sequences for "The Perry Como Show" that he both choreographed and danced. He continued with this weekly show for four years, and also guest starred on many other television shows, including "Your Hit Parade," "The Steve Allen Show," "The Frankie Lane Show," "The Andy Williams Show," "The Arthur Murray Show," "The Polly Bergen Show," "The Red Skelton Show," "The Judy Garland Show," "The Telephone Hour," and "Hollywood Parade." Gennaro was also featured on the "Bing Crosby Special," "The Ed Sullivan Show," and in President Lyndon Johnson's fund-raising campaigns. In 1969, he created "The Colddiggers," patterned after the original Golddiggers of 1933, as a one-minute Contac commercial, one of the most successful of all television commercials.
For years Gennaro produced shows for Radio City Music Hall. He won Tony and Drama Desk awards for his work on two of his later Broadway musicals, Irene and Annie. He is currently involved with the 20th anniversary production of Annie now playing on Broadway.
Gennaro and his wife reside in Manhattan. His daughter Liza, is a noted choreographer, and his son Michael is managing director of the Steppenwolf Acting Company in Chicago.
Liza Gennaro came to New Orleans to work with the Loyola Ballet to recreate many of her father's works for the "Ballet & Broadway" show. The ballet students were able to dance for Liza in a true Broadway audition atmosphere, which enabled students to experience real-life competition for certain roles.
Past recipients of the Distinguished Guest Artist Award include Maxim Shostakovich, Marilyn Horne, Danny Barker, John Kander, Fred Ebb, Quincy Jones, Col. John Bourgeois, Van Cliburn, and Gordon Getty.
Admission for the "Ballet & Broadway" performances is $10 for general admission and $5 for students, senior citizens and members of the Loyola community with a valid ID. For more information call, 865-3492.