YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – With miles of footage from past performances, Easy Street Productions could have just spliced together a best-of reel for its upcoming “Miracle on Easy Street” TV special.
But that would have missed a great opportunity.
So instead, the musical theater company made a film that aims to capture the history and impact of its holiday revue, blending newly shot numbers with behind-the-scenes footage and photos.
The “Miracle on Easy Street” television special will premiere at 7 p.m. Wednesday on WFMJ-TV, as a lead-in to the “The Voice” and “Saturday Night Live” holiday specials. It will be repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 19, on WBCB, and on Christmas at noon on WFMJ and 1 p.m. on WBCB.
The TV special will also be posted on EasyStreetShows.com.
The pandemic forced Easy Street to cancel this year’s run of “Miracle,” which it has performed every December for three decades. The show is not only a local tradition, but also Easy Street’s financial backbone.
Todd Hancock, co-founder and director of the Youngstown-based theater company, said the goal of turning the glitzy spectacular into a television special was to take advantage of the medium and to make something new.
“We’re never satisfied with just doing it the easy way,” he said. “We always try to do a little extra. Very little of the TV special is footage from past performances. Most of it was created expressly for this show. There will be little clips and photos for the memories. But every song is a completely new video or track.”
While the live version of “Miracle on Easy Street” is like a double shot of Christmas cheer, the TV special will have a different appeal.
“In some ways, it will be a lot more touching [than the stage version] but in a different way,” Hancock said. “It’s not going to come close as far as the spectacle of the live performance at Powers Auditorium with a thousand people there. But there are things you can do with TV that you can’t do onstage. It’s up close and personal. The singing and the interviews will be right in your lap on your TV.”
While the TV special distills a two-hour stage show into one hour, it will still give a taste of some of the most crowd-pleasing scenes. But it aims to go well beyond that.
“Miracle has been a family tradition,” Hancock said. “This year they’ll be sitting together around the TV [and not in the theater], but they’ll get a chance to see the stuff that goes on offstage, and what goes into creating the sets each year.”
The special will also reveal pieces of the show’s history that most people do not know, Hancock said.
“Miracle” started in 1989 at the old Uptown Theater and has been performed every year since then, with four shows per year.
One thing the TV special won’t have is performers wearing face masks. “I didn’t want there to be any signs of COVID,” Hancock said.
Dancers and singers shown performing together are either family members or in quarantine together. In the popular dancing Santa Clauses number, the troupe members are wearing masks but you can’t see them behind the beards.
The special will also feature fresh footage of the Easy Street Dancers, the Little Big Band and the Little Rascals youth troupe, led by co-founder Maureen Collins.
Choreographer Megan Cleland had been making videos of Collins and the Rascals since March for Easy Street’s virtual classes. To shoot the “Miracle” scenes, she and Collins enlisted the children’s parents.
“The parents were integral parts of it,” Collins said. “We had them dress up their kids and set up a Christmas [backdrop] in their homes, rehearse the dance and then film their child.”
The parents emailed the video clips to Collins and Cleland who turned them into a Zoom-style video with an ever-growing number of children on the screen.
“We start with nine kids, then there are 16, then 25, and all the way up to 52,” Collins said.
Turning a musical stage revue into a TV special also posed some business challenges.
Easy Street had to secure song rights, which Hancock said are more expensive for television than for a live performance. They also had to sell enough advertisements to fill four commercial breaks.
Easy Street is not a nonprofit, and therefore derives almost all of its revenue from ticket sales. Like all theater companies, it has been struggling financially because the pandemic forced it to cancel all performances.
With that in mind, Easy Street will give information during the TV special on how viewers can donate to keep the company afloat.
Collins said one upside to the shutdown of live events is that they probably never would have thought of making a film about “Miracle,” the show that put Easy Street on the map and sustains it year after year.
“It’s going to be emotional,” she said of the TV special. “It will be a touching retrospective of all we’ve done over the years.”
While the show will have a buoyant holiday spirit, Collins will pay tribute to troupe members who have died over the years when she sings, “Somewhere in My Memory.”
Pictured: Maureen Collins and Todd Hancock, co-directors of Easy Street Productions, share a laugh during the filming of the “Miracle on Easy Street” TV special on the stage at Powers Auditorium.