WEST SIDE STORY. A musical with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; conceived, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins; book codirected by Gerald Freedman; scenery by Oliver Smith; costumes by Irene Sharaff; lighting by Jean Rosenthal; co-choreographer, Peter Gennaro; musical direction by John Demain and Donald Jennings; orchestrations by Leonard Bernstein with Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal.
With Jossie de Guzman, Ken Marshall, Debbie Allen, Hector Jaime Mercado, Ray Contreras, James J. Mellon, Sammy Smith, Jake Turner and James Harper.
At the Kennedy Center Opera House through Feb. 3.
From the standpoint of show dancing, the revival of "West Side Story" which made its bow at the Kennedy Center Opera House last night, recreating the Jerome Robbins choreography under its author's supervision, confirmed most of what history has already recorded -- that this was a watershed opus, electric in its visceral excitement, tough and gritty in ways novel to the musical stage, and a virtuosic coalition of popular and academic dance techniques. The first word one hears in the show is "Mambo!' and from this signal onward we get a coruscating torrent of jazz, Latin, modern and ballet idioms, flashing pell-mell on the syncopated crests of Leonard Bernstein's superheated rhythms.
The production also reminds us that Robbins is superior in brillance and resourcefulness to any of his imitators, and that his instinct for expressive stage movement in nearly infallible. At a moment like the meeting of the lovers at the gym dance, the magnetic field between Tony and Maria is made instantly visible through a few simple gestures of hands and heads; and in an essentially vocal number like "Gee, Officer Krupke" -- still the show's best -- the sting of the satire comes to us as much through the mime, mugging and movement parody as from the words. With wonderful ecodomy and bite, Robbins translates gang macho into snapping fingers, slashing kicks, hurling leaps.
From a longer perspective, nevertheless, "West Side Story" seems more of a stepping stone than a milestone. It fails to attain that ideal fusion of styles and elements Robbins later demonstrated for us in "Fiddler on the Roof." The sentimental and the brutal, the lyrical and satirical don't quite mesh, though on the choreographic side it's only the suddenly folksy, saccharine Dream Ballet (so plainly echoing "Oklahoma!") that seems out of key.
The present cast of dancers, too, thogh sleek, slick and energetic, rarely seems sharp and rugged enough for the material. Still, the choreography remains the heart of the show, and the show as a whole packs considerable wallop.