‘Miracle on Easy Street’ Returns to the Stage

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The last time Easy Street Productions presented its “Miracle on Easy Street” Christmas show live was in 2019.

That was just three years ago, but to Maureen Collins – and some of her young performers – it seems like a lifetime.

Collins, who co-directs Easy Street with Todd Hancock, leads classes for the dozens of youngsters in the musical theater troupe. But the Little Rascals, as they are known, grow up quickly and maintaining continuity can be tough when three years go by without a performance.

Still, Collins says she’ll have them ready when “Miracle on Easy Street” returns for three performances at Powers Auditorium Dec. 16-18.

The Christmas song and dance revue – a Youngstown tradition – was presented as a prerecorded TV special in 2020 and 2021. Getting back on stage for rehearsals felt different this year for Collins because of the hiatus.

“It was like starting over,” she says. “So many of our dancers and Little Rascals have grown up [since 2019]. It’s a whole new group of young people. Usually, it’s mostly veterans.”

The student dancers are part of the show until they are in eighth grade, when they get an enhanced role for their final season.

For that reason, 10 Rascals who aged out of the troupe during the hiatus have been brought back to perform as alumni.

The glittery and upbeat show will include dozens of dancers, at least 70 Little Rascals, a full band, and a handful of featured singers. Collins and Hancock, who launched the show in the 1980s, serve as hosts and performers.

While Collins is proud of the recorded television versions of “Miracle” that aired the past two years, she says it’s good to get back on stage.

Recording and editing the TV specials “was almost more work” than doing the show live, she says.

Returning as featured singers will be James McClellan, Colleen Chance and Candace Campana, with alumni soloists Natalie Kovacs and Cortney MacKay coming home from college for the holiday break to perform.

Campana has been part of the show for more than two decades. She started out as a Little Rascal when she was 11 and was moved up to featured singer a few years later.

“This would have been my 22nd straight year in the show if the last two years hadn’t been canceled by COVID,’” she says. “So, now it’s officially my 20th year.”

Campana used the hiatus to take tap dancing lessons from Chance. Then she auditioned for the show’s tap numbers this year and landed a spot in one of them.

“I try to think everything happens for a reason and God has a plan,” she says. “I guess I needed that two years to get my tap shoes on point!”

Campana says she is more excited than she has ever been for this year’s show.

“Since I can remember, I haven’t had a Christmas without it,” she says. “So having the last two without it is making this year so much more powerful and exciting to be a part of.”

She’s also excited to be able to dance in “Miracle” this year as well as sing her featured songs. The show has become a touchstone in her life and it will have extra power this year.

“Something I always note about this show is that feeling I get when I see the set at dress rehearsal after not seeing it for a year,” Campana says. “This year it just may take my breath away!”

One special alumni guest this year will be Katie Collins, the niece of Maureen Collins. She is returning to her hometown from Nashville, Tenn., where she is pursuing a career as a songwriter and performer.

Katie holds the honor of being the first Little Rascal. She signed up for the classes when the troupe was in its earliest days and performed at the old Uptown Theater.

Accompanying the performers will be The Easy Street Little Big Band, led by Don Yallech. Returning as choreographer is Megan Cleland, who has assembled dancers from studios across the Valley for the show.

Todd Hancock has spent the past year recovering from a series of strokes but will appear in the show. He underwent heart surgery in 2019.

Hancock is in a few “Miracle” mainstays – including the Charlie Chaplin-esque “Hats Half Off” segment – but will scale them back so they are less physical.

The strokes have left him with short-term memory loss problems, and he is also combating brain fog after a bout with COVID-19 this year. He was unsure if he would be medically able to perform, but his doctor gave him the green light and even urged him to get back on stage.

Hancock says his health problems have made life “incredibly frustrating,” but he’s grateful for the help and support of Collins, Cleland and Chance.

“We’ve had to make several changes to ‘Miracle’ this year,” he says, “most of which are for the better and will hopefully make the show better than it has been in decades. I’m very excited about it!”

Easy Street will present “Miracle on Easy Street” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16, and Saturday, Dec. 17; and 2:30 p.m. Dec. 18.

Ticket prices are $29 ($19 for children 12 and under, $25 for seniors, military and students), and $35 for Gold Circle seating (plus handling fees). Discount rates are available for groups.

Call the DeYor Performing Arts Center box office at 330 259 9651 or go to DeyorPac.org. Tickets can also be purchased at the box office, which opens one hour before each show.

Pictured at top: Maureen Collins leads the Little Rascals in a past performance of “Miracle on Easy Street” at Powers Auditorium.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.