At this point, bringing a musical as revered as West Side Story to the stage is akin to placing it under a microscope. The crowd, many of whom have seen and enjoyed a rendition many times before that night, looks to see not only how the cast handles its biggest moments, but also how they make it their own.

It seems the members of Signature Theater in the Shirlington Village area of Arlington, Virginia, realized this. They were unafraid Thursday night to subject their take on the classic Romeo-and-Juliet tale to scrutiny. In fact, they embraced the spotlight.

In a play so much about finding the light in the dark, the stage, direction and overall aesthetic of the night focused on that very juxtaposition. A black surface jutting out into the audience was the main arena, and the lighting was often a few bright spotlights. Under those beams there were many moments that not only withstood examination, but passed with flying colors.

We all know the story, even if we don’t. Tony (Austin Colby) and Maria (MaryJoanna Grisso) fall in love but they can’t be together. She is Puerto Rican and her brother Bernardo (Sean Ewing) is head of the Sharks, a neighborhood gang that often faces off with the Jets, another local group. Of course the complication is that Tony used to run with the Jets because, well, love is never easy.

Colby is one of the two true standouts of the show, as he carries a 15-minute stretch from the end of the dance, through “Maria” and ending with a balcony scene that could not have gone any better. The other consistent joy is Natascia Diaz as Anita, Maria’s friend and Bernardo’s girlfriend. Where Colby brings a touch of grace and emotion to his scenes, Diaz brings some power and some bite. She gives Anita a real sense of independence but an underlying feeling of complexity. “America” is the classic Anita performance and it’s a success, but her part in “A Boy Like That/I Have a Love” is what earns her this praise. The ferocity of her feeling is undeniable when every member of the audience can see her spit fly.

The choreography, so key to establishing the beauty within the conflict of West Side Story, is done here to near-perfection. It consistently finds the right combination of athleticism and grace, and Signature’s peninsula stage setup is a beautiful fit for such a physical play. Jets and Sharks running all around, even through balcony seating, made the atmosphere one of unique vibrancy.

But the effect of the night has to be the use of spotlights. The single light or lights against a dark stage was undeniably effective, even brilliant at times. As Tony launches into “Maria,” maybe the night’s most towering feat, he is barely visible in a lone beam, often just a face peaking out of the darkness that surrounds him. And as he and Maria dance around the dress shop playing pretend, the future firmly in their hands, air drifts in and out of the light, giving the illusion that they are, in fact, in the clouds.

But we all know it can’t be that way. This isn’t a story about falling in love and taking a permanent trip to the clouds, it’s about the things that keep us on the ground. The conflict, the misunderstanding, the struggle. So in the end, when the play reaches the destination we always knew it would, the spotlight serves a different purpose. The simplicity of the beam against the dark draws our eyes to a pop of color: a single hand, lying lifeless on the floor. It’s painted blood red and can be seen, and understood, with jarring clarity.