West Side Story, Renegade Theatre Company, at Theatre Building Chicago. Founded by teens who want to tackle socially relevant theater, Renegade makes a sure debut with Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, and Arthur Laurents's 1957 musical. Most of the ensemble's 30 members are so young they needn't stretch an inch to understand peer pressure, bigotry, sex--your usual postpubescent minefields. Nobody feels the pain of outsiders more than adolescents, and the four adults in the cast succeed by sheer contrast.
Because West Side Story rewards raw energy, technique often takes a backseat. And the genius of Jerome Robbins's original choreography lies in how his gangbangers and seamstresses invent and invigorate their moves moment to moment. Tanji Harper's rough-and-ready choreography is strongest in the songs that demand to be danced: "America" and "Gee, Officer Krupke!"
In ten years, many in Siobhan Sullivan's staging will no doubt find a focus now lacking, as well as better pitch control and smoother movements. But like Peter Pan arriving too late to reclaim Wendy, it won't matter then. Looking and feeling these parts is more important than polishing them. As Tony and Maria, Raife Baker and Melissa Redondo give ardent unmiked performances. And Victoria Cuesta as mercurial Anita can whip a scene into a storm. But the phenom here is Lauren Patten as tomboy Anybodys, the Jets' self-recruited female member. Rumble with this rambunctious 11-year-old at your own risk.