A ‘Miracle’ in the making? Easy Street hits comeback trail

Easy Street Productions has been part of the local theater landscape for decades. It even gave Youngstown a Christmas tradition with its annual “Miracle on Easy Street” show.

But the troupe known for its extravagant musicals never fully realized the place it holds in the city’s heart until recently.

Easy Street, as most know, was hit hard with a double whammy last year. A bad economy and some poorly attended shows sunk it deeply into debt. Then co-founder Todd Hancock had a minor stroke in December that laid him up for months.

For a while, it looked like Easy Street had come to a dead end.

But then word got out about the company’s plight ... and the outpouring of support and appreciation that came from the community inspired Hancock and his partner, Maureen Collins, to get Easy Street back on its feet.

The company has mounted an effort to do just that, with fundraisers, workshops and a new CD. And oh yes — “Miracle on Easy Street” will definitely return for the 22nd-straight year in December.

In short, the comeback is under way.

But things didn’t always look so optimistic.

“Believe me, for months as I was recovering [from the stroke] and wondering where the money was going to come from to pay the bills — let alone not knowing if I’d even be able to sing again — it was easy to think about just giving up,” said Hancock.

“But something unexpected happened after your column came out at the end of April. People wouldn’t let us give up. Dancers, actors, musicians, parents, Little Rascals ... even all the way up to Mayor Williams offered words of encouragement. So, long story short, even though it was the first spring in the past 22 years without an Easy Street musical, we decided to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and try to figure out a way over the summer to dig ourselves out.”

(Hancock is referring to a column I wrote in this space that alerted the public to the company’s dire situation.)

First, two “friends of the arts” stepped up and gave Easy Street some breathing room. Their financial gift allowed the troupe to keep its doors open for a few more months.

“Most of our creditors had enough faith to bank on an Easy Street comeback by not turning us over to collection and are to this day still patiently watching us chip away at what we owe,” said Hancock.

Easy Street launched a fund-raising campaign, selling “I [heart] EZ ST” T-shirts at festivals. It also doubled the amount of workshops it presents — and was subsequently amazed by the turnout.

An Easy Street Cut-A-Thon will take place at Raphael’s School of Beauty, 615 Boardman-Canfield Road, from 1 to 7 p.m. Oct. 11, with $5 haircuts, giveaways and other hoopla.

A new Christmas CD (“The Best of Miracle on Easy Street”) also is being recorded. The 20-song disc will be available by Thanksgiving at Easy Street’s studio at 865 Mahoning Ave., Youngstown, and at “Miracle” shows Dec. 17, 18 and 19 at Powers Auditorium.

For more information on any of the above, or to purchase tickets for any of the four performances of “Miracle on Easy Street” (which go on sale Friday), call 330-743-8555 or go to easystreetshows.com.

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