ANNIE has been in an orphanage for 11 years – but she’s convinced her parents are still alive and that they’ll all be reunited one day.

When she gets invited to spend Christmas with billionaire Oliver Warbucks (Chris Higgins), her life changes for the better. But a con artist plans to disrupt her new-found happiness – and cash in on a $50,000 handout.

Imagine! Productions’ Annie at Preston’s Charter Theatre included a large cast of youngsters - 500 local children were auditioned – who put plenty of zest into the orphanage scenes.

Amy Edwards, who alternated with Rebecca Eastham, made best use of her strong voice in the starring role at the performance I saw.

The musical is set in Depression-era USA and the costumes and scenery aptly depicted the contrast between soup kitchens of the down-and-outs and the opulent homes and lifestyles of the rich.

Mairi-Claire Connor was convincingly calm as Grace Farrell, Warbuck’s personal assistant, her clear diction and slight underplaying of the role working well amid all the surrounding razzmatazz. Sue Gallagher was larger-than-life Miss Hannigan, who runs the orphanage but who craves love and a better life.

Annie contains some good songs – We’d like to thank you, It’s the hard knock life and the brilliant You’re never fully dressed without a smile – and, of course, Tomorrow, which seems to capture to perfection the optimistic nature of the American dream.

I felt the show could have done with a few more ‘big’ dance routines and it all got a little static on stage towards the end as the plot unravelled.

But the audience, which included a high proportion of children, clearly enjoyed the show and there was plenty of whooping and clapping at the end.