Judge displays his acting skills in a 'Miracle' way

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 By Paul Janczewski

Legal News
 
Larry Stecco is well known in the Flint area for serving as a district court judge in the Mt. Morris jurisdiction. In local performing arts circles, he’s also known as someone who has appeared in a handful of community plays.

But now, Stecco is truly melding those two loves by appearing in the recent Flint Community Players production of Miracle on 34th Street. And in the holiday play, Stecco portrayed Judge Henry X. Harper. 

Talk about your realistic casting call!

Stecco, 73, said there are differences, and similarities, between being a judge and acting as one. 

“One similarity is you know where you sit, and how you operate in court,” he said.

But he’s also doing several things in the play that he’s never done on the bench in real life. 

“I used the gavel a lot in the show, and I’ve never used a gavel in my 18 years on the bench,” Stecco said, adding that he bellowed out, “Order in the court! Order in the court!’ in the play. “I’ve never said that either, and it’s difficult for me to say that and have it come out feeling halfway natural.”

One thing that does feel natural to Stecco is being an actual judge. He wanted to be an attorney as far back as he can remember, in part because an aunt told him he’d be good at it because he liked to “argue.”

Stecco obtained his law degree in 1967 from the Detroit College of Law. He worked briefly for a law firm in Detroit, but moved back to Flint and worked for another law firm before joining the Genesee County Prosecutor’s Office in 1968.

During his stint there he handled major felony cases, organized crime cases, and was special prosecutor for a grand jury. After leaving, he and a few other attorneys opened their own firm, but after two failed efforts to become a judge, Stecco was elected in 1996 to the seat he currently holds.

Stecco must relinquish that judgeship on December 31 due to age-limit restrictions prohibiting judges from running for the bench after they reach 70 years old.
His acting chops were born at the lowest possible level. 

“In high school, I was a curtain puller,” he said. 

But he later appeared in a play there.  “I was always a bit of a ham,” Stecco confessed.

Through the years, he’s acted in a few skits for the local bar association. And a few years back, Stecco appeared in a play with a now-defunct local theater group. Since then, he’s also appeared in a few other plays with other community groups.

“I’ve gotten better and more confident,” Stecco said. “The first one was very, very scary because I’m working with all these professionals, and I didn’t want to ruin the show for these people. But once I was able to get through that first one, I felt much better.”

When the Flint Community Players began casting calls for Miracle on 34th Street, Stecco said they recruited him. 

“They thought it would be kind of nice to have a real judge play a judge,” he said.

Miracle on 34th Street is a 1947 Christmas classic film written and directed by George Seaton, based on a story by Valentine Davies. The story takes place between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day in New York City, and focuses on the impact of a department store Santa Claus who claims to be the real St. Nick.

Stecco played the Hon. Henry X. Harper. Gene Lockhart held the role in the film. The plot revolves around Kris Kringle, who was hired to play Santa in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and was later hired as Santa for Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street. He runs afoul when directing several shoppers to make purchases from the archrival Gimbels store.

Eventually, Kringle’s mental health is questioned when he insists he is the real Santa Claus, leading to a court scene in which overwhelming evidence persuades Harper to declare that, under the law, Kringle is Santa.

The Flint Community Players, now in its 86th season, was established in 1928. Performances are held at the Tom and Bea Nobles Performance Hall. The nonprofit theater organization is supported by grants, a foundation, donations, sponsors, benefactors, patrons, and anyone or anything else that holds a love of the arts.

While there are several paid positions, the majority of people involved, including the actors, are volunteers. For this play, and all others, it truly is a collection of community players. Besides the judge, some of the other actors in this presentation are homemakers, schoolchildren, a retired banker, a regional actress, a high school chemistry and biology teacher, a morning radio show co-host, an attorney, a retired pastor, a musician, and an artist.

Miracle on 34th Street was staged seven times over two weekends in November, drawing a total of some 800 paying customers. At about $16 per ticket, it’s an inexpensive way to see quality plays with actors who may be your friends and neighbors.

Anthony Ennis, the director of this play, is a psychologist by day. He praised the efforts of the Flint Community Players. 

“It is the only community theater standing in this area, and it’s very well respected,” he said. “It has always been a venue for young folks, and older folks, to have an opportunity to perform and get involved in the theater craft.”

FCP stages six shows a season, chosen by its board. Ennis has been involved with FCP for about 40 years. Directing the old hands, children, and novices always presents a challenge. 

“It’s always a work in progress, but it’s been worthwhile,” Ennis said. “We’re trying to create a spirit of community and camaraderie. Our goal is to put on quality entertainment.”
He praised the way Judge Stecco played Judge Harper in the play. 

“His performance was outstanding,” Ennis said. “He’s a veteran of community theater, and he brings those talents to this play impeccably.”

Stecco said all the casts, crews, and directors he’s worked with in community theater shows have been wonderful. 
 
“You really get to respect the people,” he said. 

Some have shown up following painful dental work, or sick with flu, and still others suffering from some family tragedy, but one thing remains the same, according to Stecco.

“The show must go on.”