The North Carolina Theatre’s spirited production of the Tony® Award-winning 1957 Broadway musical and Academy Award®-winning 1961 motion picture, West Side Story, is a high-kicking homage to original director and choreographer Jerome Robbins (1918-99). NCT guest director Jerome Vivona and guest choreographer Stephen Nachamie have taken great pains to recreate Robbins’ stylish staging and high-flying dance routines. The result is a superlative piece of musical theater, frequently interrupted by applause, that brought the audience to its feet at the final curtain for an enthusiastic standing ovation on opening night (Feb. 8th).

NCT’s magnificent, crowd-pleasing revival of this landmark musical not only showcases the talents of three giants of modern musical theater-composer Leonard Bernstein, lyricist Stephen Sondheim, and librettist by Arthur Laurents — but it also features brisk and buoyant accompaniment from a full orchestra under the dynamic baton of NCT’s critically acclaimed resident musical director/conductor McCrae Hardy.

Also outstanding are set designer Peter Dean Beck’s elaborate eye-catching sets (borrowed from the Virginia Opera) for various locations on Manhattan’s rundown west side during the late 1950s; lighting designer Jeffrey S. Koger’s artful illumination of this modern-day love story modeled on Elizabethan dramatist William Shakespeare’s tragic masterpiece of star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet; and a grand and glorious mixture of 1950s outfits leased from Costume World and complementary period costumes designed by Denise Schumaker.

Director Jerome Vivona and choreographer Stephen Nachamie superbly orchestrate the action. Vivona gets full-blooded, fully three-dimensional performances from his young and very, very talented cast. And Nachamie shows these prodigies how to kick up their heels in one of the most exuberant productions ever to grace the stage at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium.

Newcomer Michael Hunsaker and NCT veteran Dana Lynn Caruso are outstanding as Tony and Maria. They have great chemistry, and that makes the ill-starred love affair between handsome Polish American former member of the Jets and a sweet and lovely and innocent recent immigrant from Puerto Rico even more poignant.

NCT veteran Eric Sciotto and newcomer Rebecca Brancato give passionate but intensely human performances as fiery Puerto Rican gang leader Bernardo and his hot-blooded girlfriend Anita. NCT veteran Troy Magino is superb as Riff, the handsome charismatic leader of Jets and mortal enemy of Bernardo’s Sharks; and Tim Caudle provides comic relief as roly-poly largely ineffectual policeman Officer Krupke.

Laura Dysarczyk is excellent as Rosalia, and delivers a haunting solo version of “Somewhere.” Vinny Genna is good as irascible racist police Lt. Schrank; and Randell Haynes is impressive as Doc, the testy owner of the local drug store and Tony’s new employer.

Maria Totten makes the most of her moments in the spotlight as the tomboy Anybodys; and Michael McGurk and Zephyrus White make vivid impressions as Jets hotheads Baby John and A-Rab, respectively.

Jason Dougherty is a real pistol as Action, the Jets’ hot-tempered loose cannon; and Miquel A. Romero does a nice job as Chino, Bernardo’s quiet but deadly lieutenant and HIS choice to be Maria’s boyfriend.

Don’t miss West Side Story. Director Jerome Vivona, choreographer Stephen Nachamie, and an all-star cast make this one of the best full-scale musicals yet produced by the North Carolina Theatre.

The North Carolina Theatre presents West Side Story Thursday-Friday, Feb. 13-14, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 15, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 16, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $18-$60. 919/831-6950, 919/834-4000 or or [inactive 10/03].