Now more than a half-century old, conceiver Jerome Robbins, Arthur Laurents (book), Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) and Leonard Bernsteins (music) mainstay of American musical theater explores familiar issues of racism, violence and intolerance, which are very much with us today. Set in a 1950s New York neighborhood shared by two rival gangs the Jets, who are Anglo-Italian, and the Puerto Rican Sharks the story centers on the ongoing conflict between the cliques, and the romance between Tony (Clint Carter) and Maria (Laura Darrell), whose love ultimately transcends their gang ties. Musical director Greg Haake and his small orchestra perform splendidly throughout the evening. (The score features familiar songs like Tonight, I Feel Pretty and America.) Darrell is a first-rate songbird whose talent brings to mind a young Sarah Brightman, while Carter sometimes strains to hit the notes. Director Kenneth Gray-Scolari comes up with a straightforward and nicely handled revival, superbly marshaling his large, talented ensemble on this small stage, aided by Arthur L. Ross smart, energetic choreography. Rosalie Alvarezs costumes are subtly understated. Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7 p.m., through December 21. (323) 960-7712. Produced by Musical Theatre of Los Angeles.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Starts: Nov. 21. Continues through Dec. 21, 2008