Robert Clayton</i>
The Jets are ready to rumble in Pioneer Theatre Company's "West Side Story."
"WEST SIDE STORY," PIONEER THEATRE COMPANY, Pioneer Memorial Theatre, University of Utah, through May 21 (581-6961). Running time: two hours, 30 minutes (one intermission).

When "West Side Story" made its debut in 1957, it was billed as a modern version of "Romeo and Juliet." Now it, too, has become a period piece — gangs being then not quite what they are now.

Director Gabriel Barre gives this version of the classic musical a contemporary energy and fresh style, while still capturing the flavor of the '50s.

The well-known story tells of the conflict between rival gangs — the Jets and the Sharks — on New York's west side. Jeff Applegate as Tony and Deborah Lew as Maria play the ill-fated pair whose love cannot change the flow of intolerance and bravado they get caught up in. The two make a believable couple, conveying both tenderness and rage as events unfold around them. Their voices also blend nicely on songs such as "Tonight," "One Hand, One Heart" and "Somewhere."

Equally good are Mark Ledbetter as Riff, Tony's best friend and the Jets' leader; Enrique Acevedo as Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks; and Jennifer Rias as the fiery Anita.

Both gangs are standouts, as they dance and rumble their way through the tale. Individual personalities come through, especially with the Jets' A-rab, Baby John and Diesel. The Jets' take on the "Officer Krupke" song is especially fun. And the energy of both gangs was evident in several dance scenes, as well in the well-choreographed fight scenes.

Though the adult roles are more limited, they are also well done. Max Robinson made an appropriately snarky Lieutenant Schrank, Richard E. Scott portrays well the beleaguered Krupke, and Richard Mathews is also good as Doc, the voice of reason no one listens to. On the other side of the scale, young Kooper Campbell portrays the innocence of youth beautifully in his "Somewhere" solo and final appearance.

Sets and scenery are outstanding. From the chain-link "curtain" to the towering tenement steps and tilted big screen that change with story, they created an atmospheric backdrop. They are changed as slick as a whistle, creating a smooth flow for the entire show.

It's not a happy story — any more than Shakespeare's was. But the message of intolerance is one that is still needed. And this "West Side Story" brings it to life effectively.

Sensitivity rating: By today's standards, language is mild; a few racial slurs are in keeping with the conflict of the story.