Entertainment News

‘Miracle on Easy Street’ Lives Up to Its Name

By Guy D’Astolfo
YOUNGSTOWN – There are Christmas traditions and then there is “Miracle on Easy Street,” which – after three decades – is in a class of its own.

The annual holiday revue is a glittery piece of the city’s fabric that now weaves through generations. The flagship of Easy Street Productions, “Miracle” will return Dec. 13-15 with four public performances at Powers Auditorium, as well as three more for school field trips.

What keeps the show evergreen is that it’s become a part of many folks’ holiday routine.

“People have made it a family tradition,” says Todd Hancock, co-director of Easy Street. “When I was 16, I saw the Radio City Christmas Spectacular [in New York] and I immediately got it. People come to see it every year because they want to. There is no need to reinvent the wheel every year.”

Hancock and Maureen Collins co-founded Easy Street 31 years ago and continue to run the troupe.

“Miracle” strings together songs, skits, costumes, comedy, live music and big dance numbers.

But it’s way more than the sum of its parts. The revue is a two-hour dynamo that radiates Christmas spirit with a sparkly look, time-tested singing and high-energy fun.

“We rotate new songs into it every year, but no one notices,” says Hancock, explaining that audiences are too caught up in getting their fill of holiday joy to compare it to last year.

“One lady told me, ‘this was part of my childhood and now I’m bringing my kids to it,” says Hancock. “A lot of people count on Easy Street to get them in the spirit. They say, ‘It’s not Christmas until I come here’ and that means everything to us.”

If “Miracle” means a lot to Valley residents, it also holds a grip on the cast members who perform in it every year. In addition to Hancock and Collins, that list includes James McClellan, Colleen Chance and Candace Campana, choreographer Megan Cleland, the Easy Street Band, and junior company members Elizabeth Amstuz, Wil Arnim, Ethan Hess, Natalie Kovacs and Cortney MacKay. 

For co-founder Collins, the miracle of “Miracle” is that it has allowed her to reach so many people.

“It gives me validation that what I’ve been doing for the last 30-plus years has led to something so important and special in this world of craziness,” says Collins. “At age 64, when you feel like you are where you are supposed to be, that is a great blessing. I’ve been doing something I love for more than half of my life, and we have made a difference.”

A big part of Collins’ work with Easy Street is teaching musical theater workshops to youngsters. She leads five six-week workshops each year, each with 30 to 40 students – some of whom are selected to be in “Miracle.” It’s a form of outreach for which Collins is grateful.

“I’ve been able to mentor and be inspired by so many young people, and there are so many stories that will be with me forever,” she says. 

“I can’t imagine my life any other way. It’s what I was meant to do.”

After a momentary pause, Collins continues. “When I first started [Easy Street], I would think, ‘What are we doing here?’ and people would say ‘You guys should be on Broadway.’ 

“Now, they say, ‘We are so glad you’re here, and please never leave.’ I love Youngstown. You can say it’s being a big fish in a small pond, but we have a presence here. People bring their kids to us [to teach them].”

While “Miracle” means a lot from an emotional standpoint, it’s indispensable from a financial one. The theater business can be a crap shoot, but the annual holiday show can always be counted to rake in enough money to keep Easy Street going. Hancock says Easy Street would never have lasted this long without the show, a tentpole that funds the troupe all year.

“It has kept us in business for 30 years,” he says. “Without it, we would have lasted maybe five or 10 years.”

A few consecutive box office duds can sink a theater if it doesn’t have a fallback production.

“We are not a nonprofit,” says Hancock. “Ticket sales are our only revenue, and ‘Miracle’ is our biggest generator.”

Royalties, rentals, musicians, costumes, crew, technical, marketing and other expenses all contribute to the cost of staging a show, and  Easy Street spends about $75,000 to put on “Miracle.” But despite its hefty price tag, “Miracle” costs much less than the typical $100,000 the troupe spends to mount a show at Powers. That’s because the company already owns many of the necessary costumes and set pieces, and royalties are minimal.

“It’s our least expensive show and our most profitable one,” says Hancock. “Maybe Easy Street is alone in having so much wrapped in one show and in such a large venue, but with the thousands who come to it, it gives us the ability to remain open if we have a lean fall or a spring show that isn’t a big ticket. It gives us leeway, breathing room.”

Hancock described “Miracle” as “our own little Black Friday,” and likened it to “a piggybank that we borrow from.”

Between the public shows and the reduced-price school shows, “Miracle” ticket sales are in the 10,000 range.

If You Go

“Miracle on Easy Street” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13; 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 14; and 2:30 p.m. Dec. 15, in Powers Auditorium.

Tickets are $29 ($25 for senior citizens, military and students; $19 for children 12 and under). Upper balcony seats are $15, and Gold Circle tickets are $35.

Children of active military men and women will be admitted free. 

For reservations, call 330 744 0264  or go to YoungstownSymphony.com. Tickets will also be sold at the box office before each performance. 

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.