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Popular Christmas show returning to eastern Idaho this week with ‘re-imagined’ storyline

Faith & Family

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IDAHO FALLS – Actor, singer and songwriter Michael McLean is bringing his live stage show, “The Forgotten Carols” to eastern Idaho this weekend, and he says audiences will be able to see it like they never have before.

In a video announcement for the 2019 tour in September, McLean said he’s making major changes to the popular musical that has become a Christmas tradition for so many.

“Traditions are funny things. If you mess with them too much, it disappoints people. But if it isn’t magical and fresh and new, it disappoints the performers — so that’s what we did,” McLean tells EastIdahoNews.com.

But he says the changes add new and deeper meaning to the story, and will be breathtaking for those who see it.

“The Forgotten Carols” began in 1991 as a one-man stage show performed by McLean in his hometown of Heber City, Utah. There was huge demand for it the following year, so he brought it back. Since then, it has grown to become a fully produced stage show featuring a full cast with local and regional choirs. Since its inception, it’s been performed in venues nationwide.

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Production for the upcoming season began in June, and McLean says people in eastern Idaho will be the first to see a reimagined version of the show.

“We had a chance to meet with some potential backers for a film version of ‘The Forgotten Carols,’ and my son and I said ‘If we were gonna redo this, what are all the things we’d like to address? What if we reimagined it completely?'” says McLean. “I fell in love with the things that occurred to us…and I felt absolutely compelled to (incorporate the ideas into the stage show).”

The result is the same basic show with an updated, contemporary storyline, new arrangements of the music, reworkings of the characters and plot points, and a new set design.

“I get to do something I began doing when I started this show. Now, instead of just playing the character of Uncle John, I am the narrator and a couple of additional characters. Other parts have been expanded and defined a little more clearly,” McLean says.

Rehearsals began on Labor Day, and he says it’s been a challenge.

“We’re just going like crazy and what’s weird is people are saying the parts that are familiar make you think that you should do the line that you used to do, and now it’s changed. It’s kicking my butt,” he says.

But challenges aside, he says the creative process has been rewarding, and if he doesn’t do it this new way, he’ll regret it the rest of his life.

“We were just working on this amazing new arrangement of ‘I was not his father, he was mine’ yesterday, and oh my gosh, I started to cry,” he says. “I can’t explain how I can tell this story so differently, and yet think that it feels the most familiar it ever has.”

McLean and his son, Scott, began writing a screenplay for the film adaptation several years ago. Efforts to get it produced have hit a few snags, leaving its future uncertain.

“What makes ‘Forgotten Carols’ so powerful as a Christmas story is it’s actually about Jesus,” he says.

The premise, combined with McLean’s membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was not appealing to investors initially. Born-again Christians who saw a performance of the show in the southern United States several years ago helped change people’s perceptions.

“Whoever wrote this sure loves Jesus like we do,” they said, according to McLean.

McLean’s faith became a widely-circulated topic several years ago when he openly revealed his personal “faith crisis.” His son, Jeff, told his family he was gay and McLean began to question everything he believed. It was a difficult period that would last nine years.

RELATED | Michael McLean discusses The Forgotten Carols, his 9-year faith crisis, how his gay son helped him and what’s next

But inspiration in the form of music helped restore confidence in his faith and change his perspective. This experience, combined with a health scare that put him in the hospital last year, humbled him and got him thinking about what matters most. McLean says these experiences were contributing factors in his decision to present “The Forgotten Carols” in a new and different way.

“The best way to sum up what’s different (about the show) is that I’m different. I’ve changed,” he says.

Changes in the way people see movies is an obstacle McLean is trying to work around as he tries to move the film project forward. The advent of Disney+, Netflix, and other streaming platforms has made seeing movies more convenient and affordable for consumers, he says, and ticket sales to movie theaters are going down.

“And tickets sold to our live theatrical productions are increasing,” says McLean. “People want to have an experience that’s unique and that they can only have in that way.”

Fans of Jason Wright’s novel “Christmas Jars” attended a screening of the newly produced film adaptation of his book earlier this month during a one-night-only event in theaters across the country. McLean referenced this as a possible marketing strategy for “The Forgotten Carols.”

“Maybe the thing to do is to get people who care about ‘The Forgotten Carols’…in 1,000 theaters across the country the Monday after Thanksgiving to see (the stage show) live,” he says. “And then every year to keep it fresh, you bring in surprise guest singers.”

RELATED | Creating Christmas with Michael McLean

Anything is on the table right now and nothing is certain, but regardless of what happens with the film project, McLean is excited to return to eastern Idaho and premiere his new version of the stage production.

“The world premiere of this new reimagination is gonna be in a place, that from the very beginning, has always been so encouraging and supportive,” he says. “When I was scared and trying to figure it out along the way, the people of southeast Idaho cheered me on. I’m coming to a place where I feel loved and I want to give them what I think they deserve from me.”

You can see “The Forgotten Carols” at the Blackfoot Performing Arts Center Friday, Nov. 29 at 7:30 p.m. There will be a matinee and evening performance at the Idaho Falls Civic Center for the Performing Arts the following day. Shows begin at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. To learn more or to purchase tickets, click here.

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