Halstead Recreation Commission's Summer Theatre Program has nearly 80 children involved in its upcoming production of "Annie Jr."

The program is going strong in its sixth year and it is the task of director Claire Clifford to coordinate the staging of a musical, from the first rehearsal to final bows. That challenge is enhanced by the fact that she is wrangling a cast of students who range from children about to enter kindergarten through students going into ninth grade.

"I just love watching the students grow and the joy they have of doing the musicals," Clifford said.

It takes weeks of rehearsals to mold the students into a cohesive cast, singing and dancing in unison, and Clifford employs several strategies to keep the kids on task.

"I just start with expectations from the beginning," Clifford said. "I also work to be consistent in what I do and have a set plan of what we will be doing with lots of variety."

The students are taught the basics of stage performance, such as facing the audience, projecting their voices and staying in character throughout the show.

"I love how the older and younger students teach each other and help each of them grow and learn," Clifford said.

Some children have participated in the program for several years in a row.

"I think they love the memories and pride of doing the performance," Clifford said.

"Annie Jr." is an abridged version of the classic musical about an orphan in post-Depression New York who is given the chance to live with a billionaire for a week, changing both of their lives forever.

"The students' hard work and dedication to getting their parts (down) and being focused has been wonderful," Clifford said.

Clifford hopes that effort will be rewarded with a strong turnout for the production.

"(People) can see the enjoyment and drive of the cast to do a great job and put on a wonderful show," Clifford said.

"Annie Jr." will run at 2:30 p.m. Aug. 11 and at 7 p.m. Aug. 16 at Halstead High School Auditorium, 520 W. Sixth St. Admission is free, but donations to the program are welcomed.