Easy Street Productions’ holiday revue hits 30 years


By GUY D’ASTOLFO

dastolfo@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

Back in 1989 when Easy Street Productions staged its first Chrismas revue, co-founder Todd Hancock never could have imagined that the show would become a tradition that has endured for three decades.

“We didn’t even think Easy Street Productions would last that long,” said Hancock, who started the musical theater company with Maureen Collins.

The theater troupe not only survived but carved out a solid niche in the area’s entertainment scene, and “Miracle on Easy Street” is the main reason why. The annual show is the troupe’s revenue engine.

The holiday spectacular will return for its 30th year this weekend, with four performances at Powers Auditorium.

“It’s an honor,” said Hancock. “Maureen and I just shake our heads every year.”

The two will again serve as hosts this year. Featured performers will include James McClellan, Colleen Chance, Candace Campana, Elizabeth Amtutz, Wil Arnim, Ethan Hess and – fresh off her co-starring role in “Mamma Mia!” at the Youngstown Playhouse – Cortney McKay.

The 17-year-old McKay made her musical debut in 2012 with Easy Street Productions, playing the title role of “Annie” at Powers Auditorium. The show was a critical and box-office hit.

McKay is currently a junior at Lincoln Park performing arts high school in Midland, Pa.

“Miracle on Easy Street” offers a series of numbers. New ones are rotated in each year, joining others – think “Elvis Claus” and the toy soldiers scene – that are engraved into the show’s DNA and are always included.

Anchored by the Easy Street Little Big Band, directed by Don Yallech, the show has a cast of 150, including 90 Little Rascals young performers divided into two squads who alternate performances.

“These kids keep us young and the show always stays fresh,” said Hancock. “They are what Christmas is all about.”

There are also scores of dancers, directed by choreographer Megan Cleland.

But when it first debuted, “Miracle” was a much more humble affair.

Hancock recalled how it all got started.

Back in 1989, he and Collins and their fledgling company had a surprise hit on their hands with “429 Miles Off Broadway,” which had been playing for more than a year at the old Uptown Theater. The revue included a segment of the rockabilly musical “Pump Boys and Dinettes,” which was set at a 1950s gas station.

The first “Miracle” used the “Pump Boys” set, only draped in holiday decor, and the same cast but not in character.

“Just to give people something different to watch, we put together a Christmas show,” said Hancock. “It sold out, so we brought it back the next year and made it even bigger.”

Its popularity kept growing, so “Miracle” was moved to Stambaugh Auditorium for about five years before settling in at Powers, which has been its home for the past 20 years.

“I would imagine it is Youngstown’s longest-running Christmas show,” said Hancock. “The nicest thing about it is it has grown every year. One of the main reasons why Easy Street survived is because people have made [‘Miracle’] a family tradition.”

The holiday extravaganza always takes place the weekend before Christmas weekend.

“When we moved it to Powers, we asked if they could guarantee us that weekend every year,” said Hancock. “If you’re not in the Christmas spirit by then, you need to do something about it. Plus, it coincides with when school is out.”

From its low-tech beginnings, “Miracle” has become a professional-looking production that dazzles newcomers and veterans alike.

“We surround ourselves with talented people,” said Hancock, “from the costumer and choreographer to the tech side, and the sound.

“It’s all local people, and I’d put it up against any show coming to town.”

IF YOU GO

What: “Miracle on Easy Street”

When: Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 16 at 2;30 p.m.

Where: Powers Auditorium, 260 W. Federal St., Youngstown

Tickets: $29 ($25 for senior citizens, veterans and students); $19 for children 12 and under; $15 for all seats in upper balcony. Group rates and gift certificates are available. Children of active servicemen and women are admitted free. Call 330-744-0264 or go to youngstownsymphony.com. Tickets also available at the DeYor box office, open daily from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Back in 1989 when Easy Street Productions staged its first Chrismas revue, co-founder Todd Hancock never could have imagined that the show would become a tradition that has endured for three decades.

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