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‘Miracle’ goes on with boss on sidelines

On the Monday before “Miracle on Easy Street” opens at Powers Auditorium, Todd Hancock normally is loading the truck with set pieces and props, overseeing the load-in at the theater and directing the first rehearsal on the Powers stage.

This Monday he was in bed.

Hancock, co-founder of Easy Street Productions, was diagnosed last week with blockages of 80 to 90 percent in six arteries and is scheduled to undergo open heart surgery.

“I’m going to try to give it as much energy as I can,” he said. “I haven’t completely written off making an appearance in the show, but I get extremely exhausted.”

Hancock told the cast on Saturday and posted about his health issues on social media on Sunday, deciding to tell the story himself rather than have it leak out and get distorted.

“The doctors are concerned that being in the show might be too much of a strain on my heart,” he wrote on Facebook. “But I can honestly say that after 30 years, the thought of NOT being in it is an even bigger strain on my heart.”

He definitely won’t be doing his Charlie Chaplin routine or “Elvis Claus,” two elements that have been a part of the show in all of its first 30 years, dating back to its beginnings at the Uptown Theater. He would like to be able to sing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” a character with a heart two sizes too small, something he can relate to all too well this year.

Hancock, 55, had been dealing with heart issues for a decade. He had carotid artery surgery at 45, pericarditis at 47 and a heart stent at 50.

He suspected something was wrong last February while working on the joint production of “Guys & Dolls” between Easy Street Productions and the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra. He had a battery of tests then, which only revealed a thyroid issue. More tests before last month’s production of “South Pacific” also came back negative.

Trying to move some fallen branches at his mother’s house convinced him to ask for additional testing, and a heart catheterization last week revealed the severe blockages.

Easy Street cofounder Maureen Collins said, “I know it’s killing him not to be up there, but thank God they found this and he trusted his own feelings.”

Hancock described himself as one of those people who would rather do it himself than take the time to explain to others what he wants done. In a normal production week, he would spend the evenings working with the cast and the days making sure every piece of scenery was exactly where he wants it.

“This whole experience is going to be a lesson in delegation,” he said.

Collins added, “I’m going to try and convince him not to go down there (to the theater). The anxiety sets in, he feels like he’s letting people down, letting the show down and it plays on your mind. We’ll figure out ways to cover everything, and we’re going to make it work.”

A contingency plan already is in place for the Chaplin routine. Collins will sing the “Grinch” number if Hancock can’t. With the addition of some new songs, the shows was running long, and they would have needed to make cuts if all of Hancock’s songs remained in the show.

The first of three daytime performances for area schoolchildren is Wednesday. Public performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Powers Auditorium.

“This cast deserves to be seen,” he said. “They’ve put in months and months of work. I don’t want to overshadow all of their efforts … ‘Miracle’ is so much bigger than one person. There are 170 people involved, from 3-year-old Little Rascals to all the technicians and crew people

“I’m going to step out of the way and let these people shine. It’s funny, I think this may be one of the best ‘Miracles’ ever. I’ve had experiences before, when one of the leads get ill or someone breaks a leg, something happens to a cast member and you have to scramble, you have to all come together toward a common goal of getting the show up. It really unites a cast and develops into a new thing. There’s a new energy, a new purpose. That’s what I witnessed on Saturday and Sunday at rehearsal.”