The late Arthur Laurents, who wrote the book for "West Side Story" and directed its 2009 Broadway revival, was known as an unyielding perfectionist. Too bad he didn't live to see -- he died May 5 at age 93 -- a fresh young Gateway cast deliver an inspired classic rendition of the Laurents/Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim/Jerome Robbins masterpiece.

It feels like the first time. Indeed, for many of these 20-somethings assembled by artistic director Robin Joy Allan and director-choreographer Carlos Encinias, this is their first "West Side Story."

Brent Michael DiRoma as Tony and Alexandra Zorn as Maria may have more college than professional credits. With wide-eyed wonder, they present a marvelously convincing impression of a lovestruck high: In a first-sight instant on the gymnasium dance floor (representational New York set by Peter Dean Beck), they turn oblivious to the world that intrudes with persistent subversion on their cross-cultures bliss. Where "Tonight" can be cloying, this couple makes it desperately joyful in a no-eyes-but-for-thee duet.

Kit Treece, as Tony's pal Riff, leads the Jets in white-boy rumble-mania, itching for a turf war with their rival Puerto Rican Sharks, led by Dennis Kenney as Bernardo. Each gang's girls -- from Jets tomboy Anybodys (Lauren Devine) to Bernardo's squeeze Anita (Manoly Farrell) match the guys, step for flawless step, in the jazz-to-Carribbean-beat choreography restaged by Encinias. Hardy Rawls, as Tony's soda-shop employer, reminds us that the older generation may know something sometimes.

Jose Rivera dolls up the girls in color-coordinated dresses and pumps while primping the guys with flashy shirts and skinny '50s neckties bathed in Marcia Madeira's night-and-day lighting.

The genius of the original creative artists is rediscovered through this deep and deeply talented ensemble and the bracingly alive accompaniment of Andrew Austin's eight-piece orchestra. Kenney's Bernardo -- Maria's brother and co-conspirator in the ensuing "Romeo and Juliet" tragedy -- gripes with macho verve in response to the girls' liberating "America" anthem, while Manoly's Anita unabashedly reveals her tender side in the "A Boy Like That/I Have a Love" post-rumble tearjerker with Zorn's Maria.

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We'd venture that Laurents would approve.


POSTSCRIPT: Gateway announced a new era in its six-plus decades of mostly summer theater on Long Island. The for-profit playhouse is now a nonprofit, renamed The Gateway Performing Arts Center of Suffolk County.


WHAT "West Side Story"

WHEN|WHERE Through May 28, Gateway Performing Arts Center of Suffolk County, 215 South Country Rd., Bellport

INFO $51-$57, $25 students; gatewayplayhouse.com, 631-286-1133