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Mark A. Philbrick
Rachel Lynn Woodward as Maria in Hale Center Theater's "West Side Story."

OREM — Three of the lead characters in "West Side Story" have played parts in the show before, but that doesn't mean the story is old to them.

They all believe the show — written about the gang warfare of the 1950s — is a show that remains pertinent and fresh today.

"It's timeless. I think every generation can relate," said Brittni Bills, a Brigham Young University acting program senior who plays Maria on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. "It's a classic love story."

" 'West Side Story' is one of my favorites," said David Smith, also a BYU media music major who plays Tony. "In high school I got to be in it. I was Tony then also."

"I was super excited to get the part of Maria," said Rachel Woodward. "It's a part I've always wanted to play. I mean, who wouldn't want to play Maria?" Woodward plays Maria on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. "It's fun to do a meaty role, one that's filled with emotion."

Woodward particularly likes the balcony scene where Tony and Maria discover the depth of their love for one another.

The hardest scene for her is the emotionally charged scene with Anita and Maria after the dueling gangs have rumbled.

"That's hard," Woodward said. "There are some challenging vocals, too, and they are so well-known, there's a certain expectation."

Smith, who is from Texas, said he's had a lot of fun playing humorous roles like Lumiere in "Beauty and the Beast," but he's ready for a serious role.

Woodward said Kathryn Laycock Little is a great director for the show because she allows the actors to explore and work with their characterizations.

"She gets you to think about the character and do your thing. It's a joint effort," Woodward said.

Bills said she has been in Hale Center productions since she was 9 and worked as an usher as a teenager. She'd taken a break after high school until she accepted the part of Maria in the show several years ago.

"It was a life-changing experience for me. It kick-started me back into acting," Bills said.

She feels she can do the part of Maria more justice this time around.

"I can give it more maturity. I'm not as young and innocent as I was," she said.

Little said she's delighted to be working with a cast so receptive to suggestion.

"They're willing to go where I want them to go," she said. "They are wonderful."

She and her husband, Howard, are co-directing the show, she said. She is focusing on the cast direction, while he oversees the musical direction.

"That's kind of a turnaround for us," Little said. "I'm usually doing the musical part of it."

Little said she wants to present the classic story with a nice balance of humor and sorrow.

"It needs to stay the same, but I want to bring some light to it. I want the audience to come away better people than they came in," she said.

If you go . . .

What: "West Side Story"

Where: Hale Center Theater, 225 W. 400 North, Orem

When: 7:30 p.m. nightly, except Sundays, through April 3, 3:30 p.m. matinees March 11,18 and 25

How much: ticket prices vary

Phone: 226-8600

E-mail: haddoc@desnews.com