Easy Street prepares a televised ‘Miracle’
Todd Hancock has directed more than 100 shows for Easy Street Productions, including more than 30 editions of “Miracle on Easy Street.”
But the fact that this year’s holiday show is happening makes it a little more miraculous than most.
Instead of performing in front of thousands over several school and public performances at Powers Auditorium, the holiday tradition is being turned into an hourlong television special that will air four times in December — 7 p.m. Dec. 16 and noon Dec. 25 on WFMJ-TV and 8 p.m. Dec. 19 and 1 p.m. Dec. 25 on WBCB-TV.
While the special will incorporate footage from past productions that was professionally shot over the years, Easy Street also is staging some numbers in an empty Powers Auditorium that will be included in the broadcast. Hancock spent the last two weekends doing a different kind of directing to create those scenes.
“I’m leaning on my past experience as a stage director to pull off this TV special,” Hancock said. “And I have to rely on people much more skilled at editing and filming to do certain things I’m looking to achieve.”
Technical challenges are only part of the battle. Hancock is trying to create a show that normally features more than 150 performers while complying with COVID-19 protocols.
Easy Street co-founder Maureen Collins has been teaching students in her online workshop and they recorded songs and choreography that will be included in a Zoom-style number within the show.
“It wouldn’t be ‘Miracle on Easy Street’ without Little Rascals,” Hancock said.
In some cases, Hancock recorded dancers individually and will edit their performances together. He was able to avoid that effort with one ‘Miracle’ staple — a chorus line of dancing Santas. Those beards were effective in hiding the masks the dancers wore underneath.
Choreographer Megan Cleland does a dance number with her sister, who she also quarantined with, so that could be filmed without masks as well.
The goal is to present the familiar “Miracle on Easy Street” experience in a new format, Hancock said, and not turn it into a Very Special COVID-19 Christmas.
“I grew up on the Christmas specials of Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, those in-your-face, fun, over-the-top Christmas numbers that just made you feel great,” he said. “That’s what I want to bring to this. I don’t want people thinking about COVID-19. I just want them to think and feel this is the same special they’ve loved without those restrictions.”
The broadcast will include many old favorites as well as songs that haven’t been performed in years. Hancock will sing “Silent Night,” which was the first act finale in the early days of the show when it was performed at the Uptown Theater.
“I let better singers than myself close the first act now,” he said. “I’ve evolved into the comic relief.”
Another song they’re bringing back is “Somewhere in My Memory” from the “Home Alone” soundtrack, which hasn’t been done in about 15 years.
Some of those changes were out of necessity.
“We had to go through a royalty company to be approved for songs on TV,” Hancock said. “Some songs we normally do either weren’t available or were so unbelievably expensive we couldn’t afford to include them. Luckily, some of our big anchors are.”
Easy Street Productions, like all nonprofit and for-profit arts organizations, has been struggling while performance venues are shut down or forced to operate at reduced capacity. As a result, the televised “Miracle” will include one more new addition — a plea for donations.
“Miracle has always been the show that keeps Easy Street going,” Hancock said. “If we made little money the rest of the year, we always had ‘Miracle’ to lean on. It’s quietly been the biggest-selling show at Powers for the past 25 years. We don’t charge a lot, but we sell thousands of kids tickets and thousands of adult tickets every year because we do so many performances. We might not be the biggest moneymaker, but we certainly sell the most tickets.
“If we didn’t make ‘Miracle’ happen, we would have a hard time making it into 2022. If they can afford to donate, even the cost of a ticket, it would help us stay afloat.”