Local theater, music scene loses a stalwart in Sanders

The sudden passing of Jeff Sanders on Monday has dealt an emotional blow to all who knew him, including the folks at Easy Street Productions. Sanders has been a part of the Youngstown-based theater company almost from its start, and has served as its musical director for the past 24 years. He also was in popular local rock band Sharkbites in the 1980s and ’90s. He was 51.

The unexpected news came as a shock to Todd Hancock and Maureen Collins, the founders and co-directors of Easy Street. Hancock, who called Sanders the third piece of the Easy Street triangle, struggled to put his loss into words.

“We’re a company that puts on musicals, and he was the music,” said Hancock. “He was incredibly important. [His death] is so out of the blue, such a shocker. I’m still wrestling with it. It feels like we’ve been cheated out of time with him. Everyone is devastated. It’s unreal the number of lives he touched over the years, and we were fortunate he chose us to be musical director.”

As a performer, Hancock saw Sanders as a reliable rock. “Your confidence on stage was multiplied by 10 when you looked behind you and saw Jeff,” said Hancock. “He was a calming influence, incredibly talented, and was like our best friend. It’s like losing a brother.”

Sanders was in the original 1987 cast of “Pump Boys and Dinettes,” the show that launched Easy Street. He became musical director in 1993.

Easy Street, in fact, is preparing to do a 30th anniversary reprise of the show next year.

“Fortunately, we have the musicians,” said Hancock. “There are no slackers in the Easy Street band, and they made it clear they are going to step up and fill this void.”

That seems to be the best and most appropriate way to honor a musical great like Sanders.

Hancock said Easy Street will pay tribute to Sanders during its annual “Miracle on Easy Street” shows in December at Powers Auditorium.


DiPiero honored: Liberty native and Nashville songwriting legend Bob DiPiero has a slew of awards, but he called the BMI Icon Award he received Tuesday “a big one for me.” DiPiero has written about a thousand songs that have been recorded by country greats.

2 concerts, 1 day: March 15 will be another two-concert day in Youngstown, as Judas Priest will bring its metal rock to Covelli, while 38 Special plays Stambaugh Auditorium. The double-dip will come a little over two years from a similar event. On March 22, 2016, Elton John played Covelli Centre while ZZ Top played Stambaugh. Judas Priest and 38 Special don’t have quite the same firepower, but they’re similar in that both classic rockers’ heydays roughly overlapped.

Melon smasher: Tonight’s show by Gallagher, the trailblazing comedian known best for smashing watermelons, stirred memories for Dave Robich, owner of the old Funny Farm club and the dean of Youngstown comedy. “The last time he was in Youngstown was probably when we had him at the Funny Farm close to 20 years ago,” he said. “I remember him as a very clever comedy writer.” Gallagher was the No. 1 comedian in ticket sales and ratings for 15 years back then. He practically invented the TV stand-up comedy special, and also was the first to bring such a high level of audience interaction.

Guy D’Astolfo covers entertainment for The Vindicator.

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