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Charlie Brown Comes to Vienna

Classic "Peanuts" cartoon strip brought to life at community center.

The desire to present residents with an innocent and fun, yet compellingly thought-provoking musical brought director and Northern Virginia community theater veteran Christopher Smith to the board of directors for the town-funded Vienna Theater Company at the start of 2006.

Nearly 18 months later, those themes will be brought to life as the Vienna Theater Company presents "You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown," a family musical comedy that features several vignettes of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts gang of Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus and, of course, the iconic and incorrigible beagle, Snoopy.

The play, which will run at the Vienna Community Center a total of nine times over the next four weekends, opens on April 20 at 8 p.m. The musical will be Smith’s directorial debut.

"’Charlie Brown’ is just one of those plays that people relate to," said Smith before a late rehearsal at the Vienna Community Center’s auditorium last week. "Anger, happiness, jealousy, love, all these emotions we deal with on an everyday basis are embodied and addressed by the characters," in this production.

THE MUSICAL is performed in an ensemble form and perfectly sized for the compact Vienna Community Center auditorium and the community nature of the Vienna Theater Company, according to producer John Segota.

"While it may not be a traditional theater, it really is able to work with this show," Segota said. "We’ve had just great support from the [Vienna Theater Company] … and we’re fortunate enough to have such an amazingly talented cast that really works well with each other."

The opportunity to work on a family-style musical with bright tones among a close, tight-knit theater company is what drove Centreville resident Ryan Khatecheressian, who plays Charlie Brown, back to the Vienna Theater Company for its spring production. Khatecheressian was given a local acting award for his performance as Ernesto "Che" Guevara in the Vienna Theater Company’s 2004 production of Evita.

"Typically I’m doing the darker stuff, where someone, usually myself, is killed," Khatecheressian said. "This is a chance for me to show the audience another side of me … I’m looking forward to interacting with the audience and feeding off of their reactions, I think it will be an exciting experience."

The play is a retreat also for Washington, D.C. resident Andy Izquierdo, who plays Snoopy, who added that it is the innovative qualities that come with portraying the canine character that have been some of the production’s most enjoyable challenges. Izquierdo was recognized last year for his leading performance in the Herndon-based Elden Street Players production of "I Hate Hamlet."

"So much of the character … it’s all facial reactions and non-spoken stuff, it’s been very fun to get wrapped around," Izquierdo said. "I’ve had a lot of young relatives who couldn’t see some of the productions I had done before, so I’m looking forward to playing this role and seeing the kids and their reactions."

A CLOSE ATMOSPHERE, driven by an award-winning cast of veteran actors from the Metropolitan Washington, D.C. area, brings the musical to a much higher level than would originally be imagined, according to Adrian Steel, a McLean attorney and board member for the Vienna Theater Company, who is acting as liaison for the musical.

"It’s not what you would expect at a community theater level," Steel said. The Vienna Theater Company "has earned a reputation in the area for a quality production staff and that draws some phenomenal quality actors for its performances."

The production’s universal themes that are as enjoyable to children as they are to adults and seniors make "You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown" stand out from the other entertainment options for Vienna residents, Smith said.

"It has something for everyone … it’s family-oriented and just good, old-fashioned entertainment," he said. "For the cost of a movie, you get to see a high-quality live performance … from a true community theater that is supported by town residents."