When Mia Mitchell went with her mum to see West Side Story at Nottingham's Theatre Royal, she fell in love with the show and dreamed that one day she would play Maria, the ingénue lead in Leonard Bernstein's classic musical set in a racially-tense 1950s New York.
And now that dream is coming true for 17-year-old Mia, from Hognaston, near Ashbourne, as she prepares for this week's staging of the show with Derby Youth Music Theatre (DYMT) on Derby Theatre's main stage.
"I first saw West Side Story when I was about 11 and went to see a national tour of it at the Theatre Royal," said the sixth form student at Ashbourne’s Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School who has become a regular performer on the school's stage since moving from Nottingham three years ago.
"I remember Tony singing 'Maria' and the balcony scene and I knew from then I wanted to play Maria. I've always known her songs such as 'I Feel Pretty' and 'Somewhere' and it has been a dream come true to play her. I am so excited. I’ve wanted to be on stage ever since I can remember.
"Even as a child I would always be singing and dancing around the house. I would watch videos of old musicals such as Calamity Jane with my mum and I just wanted to be like the actresses on the screen.
"My first show was when I was eight years old in Seussical the Musical and at age 10 I got my first lead as Blousy Brown in Bugsy Malone. Ever since then all I've done is rehearse and perform."
For such a young actress, Mia already has 18 musicals under her belt including the Narrator in Joseph And His Technicolor Dreamcoat, Louisa in the Sound Of Music and Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors.
She first auditioned for DYMT last year, landing the principal role of Sarah Brown in Guys 'n' Dolls which the group performed at Derby Guildhall and she was thrilled to go on to win her dream role of Maria against strong competition.
Mia will be performing alongside 36 other talented youngsters from the region who will be accompanied by a live 13-piece orchestra of professional musicians. Together they will tell the story of the gangland warfare between the Jets and the Sharks, the intense passion between the two lovers, Tony and Maria, and the tragedy that this brings in a story roughly based on Romeo and Juliet.
Tony is played by 17-year-old Ryan Wiggins, from Uttoxeter . Having already taken on the challenging roles of Raoul in Phantom of the Opera and Gomez Adams in The Adams Family, this will be Ryan's first show with DYMT.
The role of Anita is being taken on by Holly Twells, 23, from Willington, while Sam Fretwell, 18, who played Nicely Nicely Johnson in Guys 'n' Dolls last year, is Bernardo. Lucas Young, 18, from Nottingham, is playing tough gang leader Riff.
"Rehearsals have been so much fun," explained Mia, who hopes to go on to drama school after A-levels at QEGS.
"It's a lot of hard work but there’s a massive family feel. Because of that, we’re very close to our director Peter Waters, choreographer Caroline Green and musical director Charlotte Daniel who listen to our strengths which they incorporate into the show making it a lot more personal to DYMT.
"The boys' dancing – and some of their tricks – is amazing. The girls' dancing in America is phenomenal too while Officer Krupke has the whole cast crying with laughter every time they rehearse it.
"But I really believe the balcony scene will be the one to remember. It's a special moment and I can’t wait for that."
Mia and the cast don't have long to wait. The show, which director Peter Waters promises to be "an evening of memorable theatre" and which includes famous songs such as Tonight, Maria and America, will be staged at Derby Theatre from tonight, September 6, to Saturday, September 9.
Tickets priced at £16 (£14 concessions) are available from www.derbytheatre.co.uk or by phone on 01332 593939.