"It's dry there?" asked Rita Moreno in a throaty voice over the phone.

"Oh thank you for telling me, I wouldn't have been prepared!"

It's not everyday that a gal from Salt Lake City can "help" a 78-year-old performing legend with a Tony Award, a Grammy Award, an Emmy and an Oscar sitting on her mantle.

But, having never been to Utah, "except once, a hundred years ago when I did a show with the Osmonds," Moreno was happy to learn that, yes, it's dry here and to bring plenty of water.

Moreno, best known for playing the sassy Puerto Rican Anita in the movie musical "West Side Story," will be in concert at the Ed Kenly Amphitheater on Saturday.

"It's a show filled with stories and a lot of Broadway songs," she said. "But not the ones that people usually think of," she added, joking that "leave it to her" to find songs people have never heard of.

"I'm so madly in love with this program," she said shortly after mentioning that she usually changes the act every couple of years.

"It's one of the most perfect acts I've ever done. I'm very comfortable with it. I love doing it."

"The stories are really wonderful, they're related to the song in a way that sets up the songs," she said. "We did a lot of research and looked up the songs and composers. I tell stories about them or the way the song was performed originally. The audience just loves it, they feel enriched by it and leave knowing more about the song than they did before."

Moreno travels with a trio of musicians, "they're pretty amazing people," and together they share songs from musical theater and the great American songbook.

"That's what I love about concerts, it's the freedom," she said. "You're doing everything you want to do and what you love the most."

"You know what's the hardest?" she asked. "The second song, because it has to follow the first song in a way that's complimentary. If you start with a big, energetic number, which I rarely do, but you have to come down. But not to a ballad, that's too bland. You have to have a mid-tempo song with a nice lilt to it. It's hard to find a perfect second number."

In order to create the perfect evening, Moreno starts out with index cards, "I write down the title of songs, every card has one title." And she spread them out on the table or floor, "then I pick 10 or 12 and I start putting them in order."

And the show she's bringing to Layton is a nice mix of character pieces and songs that are just, well, Rita Moreno.

"I have two Spanish songs. And in one of those I play the castanets. I was a Spanish dancer until I was 17. I love the songs where I become someone else, but the Spanish stuff, that's just me being me."

"It's the beat of the opening number that draws people in and puts smiles on their faces." Moreno said.

Moreno will be performing for the first time since her manager and husband of more than 40 years passed away in June. She didn't want to talk about it but did say "my husband used to do the lights. I'll certainly miss that a lot. He would leave the house lights up just a little bit so that I could see the faces of the audience. I'll really miss that."

Still with as much science and art as Moreno brings to her 20-year concert career, she loves what she's doing.

"I love singing. I sing all the time. I join in. I sing at the top of my lungs. I love to sing in the shower — your voice sounds huge in the shower."

"That's why I love doing it. Audiences love it and so do I. That's why I'm still doing it."

If you go

What: Rita Moreno

When: July 17, 8 p.m.

Where: Ed Kenley Centennial Amphitheater, 403 N. Wasatch Drive, Layton

How much: $18-$46

Phone: 801-546-8575

Web: www.davisarts.org

e-mail: ehansen@desnews.com