One of the reasons I fell in love with musical theater was watching "West Side Story" in music class. At 10 years old I was captivated by Tony and Maria's love story. I treasured the story infused with culture and adored the message of the show. I think this story holds a lot of cultural relevance still today.

For those unfamiliar with the story, "West Side Story" centers around two gangs in New York: the Sharks and the Jets. The Sharks are Puerto Rican and the Jets are American. Against all odds, one of Shark's sisters (Maria) falls in love with a Jet (Tony). However, everything around them seems to keep them apart and threaten their relationship. Think Romeo and Juliet in 1950's New York. It's a beautiful, tragic story with timeless music. "West Side Story" has quite a history and has racked up many accolades, including multiple Tony awards for the show itself and the performers. You can watch the 2009 Tony performance from the Broadway revival company on YouTube. The Broadway cast included Carol Lawrence as Maria, Larry Kert as Tony and Chita Rivera as Anita. The 1961 movie musical starred Natalie Wood as Maria and Richard Beymer as Tony.

A central theme of the story centers around racism and prejudice. The two rival gangs hate each other and are fighting throughout the story because they can't understand each other. Tony and Maria don't seem to hold the same hatred in their hearts and focus more on what connects them rather than what separates them. I think we could all do well to take a cue from Tony and Maria.

Love and empathy matter more than anything else. Love and empathy allow us to understand one another and see each other's perspectives. Hatred leads to tragedy. In a world where we are

I am currently in a production of "West Side Story" at Peoria Players Theatre. We have a stellar production team and cast working to put on this wonderful show. Mary Rose Williams is our Maria and Tyler Smith is our Tony. One fun fact about our show is that they are actually dating in real life. This is not the first time they have played opposite each other! I am playing Anybodys, which is a role that has been on my bucket list for a while. Travis Olson and Clifford Clark are directing and Susan Brown is our music director. Danny Fisher is our choreographer.

Our show is a part of Peoria Player's 100th season. Peoria Players in one of the oldest community theatres in the nation, and we are proud to continue the tradition of providing quality entertainment to central Illinois. Supporting local theatre is one of the most important things you can do to drive the success of your local economy. Don't miss our take on this classic!

Our show runs February 1 through 3 and 7 through 10. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for those 20 and under. For tickets, visit Peoria Player's website or call 309-688-4473.