After nearly three decades of spreading Christmas joy with live theatrical performances, Michael McLean’s musical, “The Forgotten Carols,” is moving to the big screen this weekend.
Starting Friday, audiences can see “The Forgotten Carols” in more than 50 theaters across Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and parts of Canada. A trailer, along with tickets and theater information, is available on forgottencarols.com.
Think of this like that gift you made for your parents in a middle school shop class and couldn’t wait for them to open on Christmas morning, the songwriter and pianist said.
“That’s what I feel like this year. This is my present,” McLean said. “I can’t watch myself very comfortably, but I can make this present and maybe it will be a really wonderful thing that you love. I hope people can go and feel that.”
McLean was already reimagining and updating “The Forgotten Carols” last year with plans to expand and do twice as many tour dates in 2020. Those plans were dismantled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
But McLean’s disappointment was erased when he saw “Hamilton” on Disney+. He liked the idea of filming his play and making it available to a larger audience. A “series of miracles” made it possible for the production to reach the big screen this weekend, he said.
“The Forgotten Carols” was filmed using 15 cameras in Cedar City’s Heritage Theater earlier this fall. What McLean finds most appealing about the film adaptation is that no one has to use binoculars to see the stage from the upper deck.
“This is like everybody gets a front-row seat,” McLean said.
Early in his career, McLean produced radio and television commercials, along with short films for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints such as “Together Forever,” “The Prodigal Son” and “Mr. Krueger’s Christmas,” starring actor Jimmy Stewart.
He created the music and narrative of the “The Forgotten Carols” and launched a promotional tour in 1991, originally performing all the roles and singing all the songs himself. He figured out how to make it work along the way.
McLean recalls thinking, “Who is going to come see a guy who can’t act or sing tell a story in which the audience doesn’t know he’s the author?”
“The heavens opened and I heard a voice say, ‘Michael, get choirs, they have relatives,’” he said with a laugh.
It worked. Audiences liked “The Forgotten Carols” so much that the tour became an annual tradition. Over time it evolved into a major production.
The story features a nurse named Connie Lou who meets an elderly patient named John. The cheerful and mysterious man changes the nurse’s life when he recounts the story of Jesus Christ’s birth. In the film adaptation, actress Adrien Swenson plays Connie Lou and McLean plays John.
For McLean, “The Forgotten Carols” are more than just a fun holiday tradition. The Christ-centered message, along with the inspirational stories people have told him over the years, have been sources of spiritual strength in his life, even through a nine-year faith crisis.
“That’s why that means so much to me and why I really hope that maybe for some people, the miracle of us being able to put this on a screen and making it available for people when everything else has been shut down, that’s my gift,” McLean said.