Easy Street Productions will celebrate its 25th anniversary next spring, but its roots go back even farther than that.
It all started in 1983 when Todd Hancock first met Maureen Collins when he played Rooster to her Miss Hannigan in a production of "Annie" at Youngstown Playhouse. The show was so popular, the Playhouse brought it back the following year. And when Hancock and Collins were looking for a name for their theater company a few years later, they picked "Easy Street" after their big musical number in that show.
"It seemed like the perfect way to celebrate our 25th anniversary was to get together with some of these people we haven't been with for a long time," Hancock said.
Photos by Elaine Eickhoff
Easy Street also staged "Annie" in partnership with the Playhouse in 1995 and brought it to Powers Auditorium in 2002. This weekend's performances are Easy Street's first production in the large theater (not counting its annual Christmas show "Miracle on Easy Street") since staging "The Music Man" in 2009.
Not only will Hancock and Collins be reprising their roles, but they will be joined by several other members of that original cast. Don Creque, one of the original Pump Boys from Easy Street's long-running "Pump Boys and Dinettes," is back from Las Vegas to play Daddy Warbucks, and Tom O'Donnell is reprising his role as Drake the butler. Ballet Western Reserve Artistic Director Virginia Hartman, who was an orphan in that 1983 version, is playing Rooster's girlfriend Lily St. Regis this time.
But the show isn't called "Rooster" or "Lily" or even "Daddy Warbucks." It's called "Annie," and Hancock said, "You can't do this show without someone who can do that role."
When You Go
WHAT: Easy Street Productions - "Annie"
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
WHERE: Powers Auditorium, 260 W. Federal St., Youngstown.
HOW MUCH: $28 adults, $23 students and senior citizens and $15 children ages 12 and younger. Tickets are available in advance at www.youngstownsymphony.com and by calling 330-744-0264 and at the door at the DeYor box office.
Hancock found her in 11-year-old Cortney MacKay of Hubbard.
"This girl walked in our doors with talent coming out of her ears," Hancock said. "I'd put her up against the New York Annie (a revival of the musical opens tonight on Broadway)."
MacKay signed up for the summer class that Collins offered in 2011, which had a "Glee" theme, and she gave MacKay one of the solos on "Don't Stop Believin"' for Easy Street's summer concert at Judge Morley Pavilion. As soon as Hancock heard her singing in front of that huge crowd, he said he made eye contact with Collins and started pointing at Cortney and mouthing the word, "Annie."
Hancock also recruited a couple of familiar faces from local television. Rich Morgan and Teresa Weakley, both with WKBN-TV, will play President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Warbucks' secretary Grace Farrell, respectively.
"It's always been in my mind that the FDR part should be played by a local celebrity," Hancock said. "He doesn't have to learn any blocking because he's pushed around in the wheelchair; it's just a matter of learning the lines ... I was watching the news one day, Rich came on and I thought, 'There's a ham waiting for a role right there.' I could sense it. He comes off very natural on TV and funny. And there's a little tongue-in-cheek in that role."
Hancock worked with Weakley judging a local "American Idol" competition a couple years ago, and his first thought upon seeing her in person is that she'd make a great Grace Farrell. However, he didn't know if she could sing or had any acting experience. When he asked, she said she'd only done a couple things in high school. One of her roles was playing Grace Farrell in "Annie."
"She's had to do a lot of scrambling to fit it in, but I hope she continues," Hancock said. "She has a lot of talent."
Easy Street is renting its sets from Pittsburgh CLO, and Hancock is drawing inspiration from the Broadway production for one other bit of pivotal casting - the role of Annie's dog Sandy.
"One of the neat things, even with the original Broadway production, they used a shelter dog to raise awareness about adopting animals," Hancock said. "I remember seeing that way back then and thought it was a neat thing. I was determined to find a dog that fit the bill this time."
He went to Angels for Animals and found a brown scruffy dog named Harry that was supposed to be picked up the day before but the family never arrived.
Representatives from Angels for Animals will have other shelter dogs in the lobby during the run of "Annie," and audience members will be able to pet the dogs, stick dollar bills into their pouches to support the animal charity or even adopt the pets.
And Harry doesn't have to worry about "Tomorrow." He has a place to go after Sunday's final performance.
"Several people in the cast have volunteered to take him home when the show is over."