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‘Miracle’ keeps beating despite heart issues

YOUNGSTOWN — Singers, dancers, the Easy Street Little Big Band, Christmas songs, holiday decorations and colorful costumes — one of the creators of “Miracle on Easy Street” might not be there, but all of the other elements that have made the show a Mahoning Valley holiday tradition will be.

Easy Street Productions’ co-founder Todd Hancock announced this week that he would be unable to perform after being diagnosed with blockages of 80 to 90 percent in six arteries that will require open heart surgery to correct.

Hancock said he was hoping to make an appearance in the show, but some of the numbers that Hancock normally performs will be dropped (Santa’s southern cousin “Elvis Claus”) or recast (the Charlie Chaplin routine “Hats Half Off”), and Easy Street co-founder Maureen Collins will have to handle the hosting chores alone.

“It’s going to be really surreal,” Collins said. “I hope God gives me double the strength to talk so much and sing.”

Collins will have plenty of company on stage. With multiple casts of Little Rascals, “Miracle” features more than 150 performers every year.

Regulars James McClellan, Colleen Chance and Candace Campana will be joined by junior company performers Elizabeth Amstuz, Wil Arnim, Ethan Hess, Natalie Kovacs and Cortney MacKay.

The Easy Street Little Big Band will accompany the singers and provide the soundtracks for the routines created by choreographer Megan Cleland. Her troupe of dancers will perform routines incorporating jazz, tap and hip hop.

While many old favorites will be a part of the show, Hancock said the production will include a few new songs. One tiny silver lining to his diagnosis is that the show was running long in rehearsals and he was afraid he’d need to cut some songs from the original setlist. The numbers cut ended up being his own.

“This will be the first time I experience this as an audience member,” Hancock said. “Just like anybody else, I think I’m going to be moved by it, caught up in it. ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,’ the last song, that’s when I would take a deep breath and take it all in. This one is going to be different. I’ll have a whole show to take a deep breath and take it all in.”

Collins said she’d rather have Hancock miss one year of performances so he can come back and be a part of it for years to come.

“The kids will get us through it,” she said. “I trust they will be able to do it all.”

Hancock said he was impressed with how the cast came together and worked on the changes after being told of his health issues over the weekend.

Anyone who’s seen Hancock on stage knows he’s a born showman. But he and Collins also have shown the business savvy necessary to keep a theater company going for more than 30 years in a region where other arts organizations have floundered.

“Miracle” has been that one dependable show that Easy Street could count on year in, year out to pay the bills. Hancock appreciates the support and well-wishes he’s received but said the best way to express that sentiment is to buy a ticket instead of a get-well card.

“This show is really everything for us. It really allows us to be in business. And this would be a great year to come.”

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