IN the programme notes, Natalia Jacques, who plays musical theatre's most famous female orphan, reveals her dream of one day playing on the West End stage.
On the evidence of this bright, engaging and thoroughly entertaining performance, that dream is destined to come true. The voice, the timing, the ability to melt the audience's hearts, it's all here.
The chemistry between her and Peter Birch, who plays the kindly billionaire Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks, a man with more bucks to his name than he knows what to do with, builds beautifully. Despite his billions, there's something missing in his life.
Annie is basically Oliver! with girls and there are some genuinely moving and laugh out loud funny scenes in this establishment, presided over, and I use the word in its loosest possible sense, by the harridan Miss Hannigan. This is a gift of a role for Philippa Shellard, a tyrant in the dormitory one minute and a tottering drunk dreaming of romance the next. The girls who played the orphans were equally outstanding, even the smallest putting in performances that were mature way beyond their years.
A tribute, no doubt, to the production team, led by director Nick Angus who used every inch of the Waterside Arts Centre auditorium to stunning effect. No disrespect intended, but the WAC isn't the biggest venue in the world but on opening night I didn't notice this.
Annie is a great show to take children to if you're on a mission to introduce them to the theatre. On the tram station on the way home a girl was singing the most famous numbers to her mum. I bet she wasn't the only one.
I've been reviewing SAMT shows for the best part of 25 years and this production is the best yet. Top class entertainment, right on your doorstep.
* Until November 12. The box office is on 0161 912 5616 or visit www.watersideartscentre.co.uk.
Star rating - ****