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'A Charlie Brown Christmas' coming to Egyptian stage

DeKALB – Most people have seen the 1965 holiday classic “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” but they probably haven’t seen it like this – live on stage.

Hays Hankinson, who plays Charlie Brown in the traveling production coming to the Egyptian Theatre on Friday, said those who see it will enjoy it.

“I think it’ll be a great time for the whole family,” said Hankinson, 24, who is the lone rookie among the cast of colorful characters who will depict Charlie, Linus, Lucy, the ultratalented, genius dog Snoopy, and others in the Charles M. Schulz cartoon.

The 25-minute TV special of the same name first aired Dec. 9, 1965, on CBS. It shows an elementary school-aged Charlie Brown, who is lonely and who constantly gets picked on by everyone except his best friend, Linus, a young boy who carries a bright blue blanket. Linus often offers sage advice to the titular character.

Hankinson said he grew up watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” with his parents. He said playing Charlie made sense.

“It’s kind of full circle for me personally,” Hankinson said

He said the role, which includes participating in the pageant the cartoon characters work on all throughout the special to make it just right but is never seen, harkens back to his stage beginnings.

“My very first role was Baby Jesus,” he said. “So now, in the Christmas pageant, I play Joseph.”

Hankinson said he’s excited to show the audience the pageant.

“I think it’s a bonus that you do get to see it in our show,” he said. “It’s a whole other play inside of the play.”

Hankinson said he identifies with both Charlie Brown and Linus.

I’m kind of a split between Linus and Charlie,” he said. “Linus on a base level; he carries a blanket. I was adopted. The blanket I was brought home in I keep to this day.”

Hankinson said he identifies with Charlie Brown because in his hometown of Thomasville, Georgia, boys are encouraged to play sports. Hankinson preferred singing, dancing and acting.

“I was a little bit of an outsider growing up,” he said.

Hankinson he’s been acting, dancing and singing his whole life. He talked about the moment he knew he wanted to turn it into something more.

“When it comes to singing,” he said about his first solo in his church choir. “This woman in the front row, she was crying. I wasn’t sure if she was crying because of how I was singing or what, but it sparked something inside me.”

He reflected with surprise on how young he was at that time, too.

“I don’t know who I thought I was at 7 or 8 having that epiphany,” he said. “That’s when I fell in love with singing.”

Hankinson said the music in the “Charlie Brown” production includes some Christmas favorites and that the play’s musical director, Dan Garmon, does an incredible job in creating the arrangements.

Hankinson said his favorite song, which was added to the play, is “Just Like Me.”

“I think it personifies who Charlie thinks he is and how he fits in his whole friend group,” he said. “He feels abandoned and not loved and he sees it in the tree.”

Hankinson also talked about his favorite scene in both the special and in the play. Millions probably remember it with clarity.

“Charlie and Linus discover a tree and Charlie sees himself,” Hankinson said. “It’s a really sweet moment to see that scene in song.”

Hankinson shared what it’s been like on the road for himself and his fellow performers, who have traveled to Toronto and the northeastern U.S., before they arrive in the Midwest this weekend.

“It’s been amazing,” he said. “It’s been kind of a dream come true. Not only to make my pro debut, but to visit all these places I haven’t been to. It’s been a blessing.”

“A Charlie Brown Christmas Live on Stage” can be seen at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Egyptian Theatre, 135 N. Second St. in DeKalb. Tickets cost between $20 and $65 and are available online at https://egyptiantheatre.org or by calling 815-758-1225.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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