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Michael McLean celebrates 25 years of 'The Forgotten Carols'

Michael McLean will spend this holiday season the same way he has spent every holiday season for the past 25 years: dressing up as an older man and singing about a motel in Bethlehem.

This year is the 25th anniversary of “The Forgotten Carols,” the musical McLean first performed as a one-man show in 1991. The first year, he changed costumes to portray different characters as he went. He has performed in productions of “The Forgotten Carols” every Christmas season since.

The musical follows a no-nonsense nurse named Constance as she goes to care for a new patient, Uncle John (played by McLean), and is reminded of the real reasons we celebrate Christmas.

McLean is again getting into costume this season, but now he is joined by a large cast, a choir and an extensive set. The tour began Nov. 19, and McLean will perform in more than 20 productions of “The Forgotten Carols” in four states through Dec. 23.

McLean said he still feels a certain intimacy with each audience.

“They bring this magic thing,” he said. “I am moved by it every single night that we do it, and it’s great.”

For him, sharing love and the message of the birth of Christ is what’s most important and what has been most important to him from the beginning. Many families have embraced “The Forgotten Carols” and made it a Christmas tradition.

McLean finished writing “The Forgotten Carols” only a few months before he performed it for the first time by himself in 1991.

“In December of 1990, I was sitting at my piano,” he said. “I was noodling around, playing some notes, and then I heard myself sing … ‘I am a man forgotten. No one recalls my name, and thousands of years will fail to fully erase my shame.’”

Those words would become the lyrics of the first forgotten carol. McLean then thought of other characters in the nativity story whose songs he felt he needed to write and whose stories he needed to tell. He pitched his idea for an album and corresponding novel to Deseret Book and was told that he would need to have it all done within two weeks. He and what he calls his “creative unconscious” were up for it.

“I’d write at night after we had put the kids to bed,” McLean said. “Then just before I went to sleep, I said (to my unconscious), ‘Look, please work on this while I’m asleep.’”

He said that he had learned that your unconscious is always working, even if you aren't. In the morning, he would write more of the story as it came to him. He said his unconscious was the writer, and he was the editor. When he couldn’t focus on writing, he just asked his creative unconscious to keep working on “The Forgotten Carols,” and then he would come back to it when he could.

McLean finished the book on time and that Christmas season, the book and album, a collection of Christmas carols from unexpected points of view, were released. He started performing the musical that year. This year, he’s been reflecting on 25 years of sharing these carols and has written a new song to express his feelings about the show in an encore section. He recited part of the lyrics:

“Some say homemade gifts are best, wrapped in Christmas harmony. Well, this gift I’ve given all these years (my show) is as homemade as can be. But it doesn’t seem quite fair because as far as I can see, I’ve never given you as much as you have given me.”

“And that’s how I feel,” McLean said. “I have been so grateful for the gift of being allowed to tell this story and the love that has come back from the sweet, wonderful friends who have allowed my music to be a part of their lives.”

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