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WHS presents “A Charlie Brown Christmas” Thursday & Friday

A.J. Wass (from left) is Linus, Max Langerud is Charlie Brown and Katie O'Donnell is Lucy in the Worthington High School production of "A Charlie Brown Christmas," which will be staged Thursday and Friday evenings at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center. (Ryan McGaughey/The Globe)

“I almost wish there weren’t a holiday season. I know nobody likes me. Why do we have to have a holiday season to emphasize it?” Charlie Brown, in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

WORTHINGTON — The lovable Peanuts gang, originated by the late Minnesota native Charles M. Schulz and headlined by Charlie Brown, is making a local appearance this week in the guise of the Worthington High School (WHS) all-school play, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

At 7:30 p.m. on both Thursday and Friday at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center, a cast of 14 (aided by 16 backstage and tech crew members) will bring to life the beloved animated classic that premiered on television in 1965.

“I was in grade school when I first saw it on TV,” said director Jon Loy of the unforgettable sketch, “and I think there’s a little bit of Charlie Brown in all of us.

“We’re all seeking to be included, to share in the season, to matter to someone, so everyone can find a place in this.”

Senior Max Langerud assumes the title role of that famous round-headed guy who tries so hard to make things go his way, although he doesn’t always succeed.

“Almost everyone can relate to Charlie Brown in at least a small way, and that’s why people love him,” observed Langerud.

“Everyone has a time in life when you feel like you’re being left out or aren’t liked or are getting the short end of the stick, so he’s a great character.”

Contributing to Charlie Brown’s struggles is the notoriously crabby Lucy Van Pelt. Lucy is portrayed in the WHS production by sophomore Katie O’Donnell, who is definitely playing against type.

“I’m enjoying the role because Lucy is a complex character,” said O’Donnell. “Sometimes she’s nice to Charlie Brown — for example, she lets him direct their Christmas play — but sometimes she’s a jerk and is mean to him.”

O’Donnell will conceal her own brown locks with a black wig to conjure the expected image of Lucy, and that’s not the only nod to making the production appear as much like the TV special as possible.

“We chose to follow the animated storyline, so it required a great deal of creativity to produce the look of the iconic show,” said Loy, crediting head set and props designer Judie Wendt-Johnson for her efforts.

“It’s all about making the set look like one big cartoon,” said Wendt-Johnson, who serves as a mentor to the students working behind the scenes.

“I show them how to build the set, teach them why we’re doing what we’re doing with it, and in this case it’s a lot about color selection, painting techniques and shape-cutting.

“They’ve been digging in, working hard and having fun, too,” she added.

Costumes designed by Pam Wendland contribute to the overall effect, and MAPAC tech guru Mark Brodin is in charge of the lighting and sound design.

With what Loy says was an unusual rehearsal schedule due to the WHS California band tour falling between the start of rehearsal in late October and this week’s production dates, the students have responded to the challenge.

“It’s been really fun to see the actors grow into their characters,” said Loy. “For instance, A.J. Wass, a sophomore, is doing a great job as Linus.

“A.J. has had his blanket along at every rehearsal, and it’s become symbolic of how we want to hold onto something that’s secure — but if we step out of our comfort zone in trust, we may find we can succeed.”

This morning, the cast and crew of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” are sharing a special preview performance of their show with the first-graders of Prairie Elementary.

“It’s a real treat to introduce this American tradition to these youngsters live and onstage,” said Loy.  

Added Langerud, “This is about the most charming, wholesome show there is, and I love that the whole play is about getting to the root meaning of Christmas.

“’A Charlie Brown Christmas’ is well-known around the world for its message, and it brings us back to what Christmas is really all about.”

The WHS production of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center, 714 13th St., Worthington. All seats are reserved, and tickets may be secured in advance by contacting the box office at 376-9101. ISD 518 activity passes will be honored, and ISD 518 students with IDs will be admitted free of charge, although tickets are still required.

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