Panic ensued for the members of the Oakcrest High School Drama Club when director Kim Tunney announced in December that their next show would be the musical "Annie."

The club members, whose most recent productions were the staples "Grease" and "The Wizard of Oz," balked at the prospect of playing pre-pubescent kids, who make up the bulk of the musical's characters. But now, with opening night looming, those who signed up for the challenge are glad they did.

"We were like, 'Oh my gosh, it's going to be a horrible show,'" said Molly Huber, who plays the villainous orphanage matron Miss Hannigan. "(But) after the months of just prepping and just really kind of figuring out what Annie really means to us, to a certain extent, there will be a special place in my heart for this show."

The musical will run Feb. 14-16, with shows at 7 p.m. There will also be a 2 p.m. matinee Feb. 16. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for students and seniors.

"Annie" tells the story of its titular 11-year-old orphan, played by senior Olivia Ragan, who is adopted for the 1933 holiday season by billionaire industrialist Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks (Nick Murphy) as a publicity stunt. The hardened businessman is initially cold to Annie, but she quickly cracks his callous exterior with her relentless optimism.

Ragan, 17, said playing a character six years apart from her in age and 80 years apart in environment has given her a chance to test herself as an actress.

"You really have to analyze," Ragan said. "What would this 11-year-old girl do on the streets of New York City in the 1930s? It's not an easy thing, but it's definitely worth the challenge."

This is the first time Oakcrest has performed the show, which debuted on Broadway to critical and commercial success in 1977. The show has always been a dear one for Tunney, who nearly landed the role of Annie in a 1980 Broadway production of the show.

This year was a good fit for the production, Tunney said, both because she has a surplus of girls to fill out the predominantly female roster of characters, and because the show is again in the limelight with a current Broadway revival that began in Nov. 2012.

While she admits playing young girls can be a daunting task for teenage thespians, Tunney said the troupe has stepped up admirably.

"I think they're really enjoying it, and from watching rehearsals, it doesn't seem like they're high school kids playing little kids," Tunney said. "They're really becoming their characters."

While Huber is not among those playing a child, she said playing the vile Hannigan has still pushed her far outside her comfort zone.

But despite her playing against type, Huber said the character has been a joy to inhabit, and that this opinion holds for the rest of the cast. If the audience has even a fraction of the fun watching the performance as the players have acting it, this will be a show to remember, Huber said.

"It's a beautiful set," Molly said. "We have a dog. ... All of the soloists are extremely gifted, and I think, as a fellow performer, it's always nice to see when kids are really just having fun."

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If you go

What: Oakcrest High School's production of Annie

When: 7 p.m. Feb. 14-16, and 2 p.m. Feb. 16

Where: Oakcrest High School Auditorium, 1824 Dennis Foreman Drive.

How much: $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students.

More info: Contact Kim Tunney at 609-909-2600 or email