“The Forgotten Carols” is returning to eastern Idaho on the big screen Friday, Nov. 20. Listen to our conversation with Michael McLean in the video player above or download the audio below. | Courtesy photo
IDAHO FALLS – For 29 years, audiences in eastern Idaho have enjoyed seeing “The Forgotten Carols” to help kick off their holiday season. This year, fans of the popular stage musical will be able to see it like they never have before.
A stage-to-screen version will premiere in theaters Friday, Nov. 20.
Singer, songwriter and actor Michael McLean spoke with EastIdahoNews.com reporter Rett Nelson about filming the stage show, how he’s surviving COVID-19 and what he’s most looking forward to when everything gets back to normal.
Listen to our conversation in the video player above or read a portion of the transcript below.
“The Forgotten Carols” will be shown at the Paramount Theatre in Idaho Falls and the Blackfoot Movie Mill. Click here to purchase tickets. Tickets are also available at Fat Cats and Paramount 5 in Rexburg.
RETT NELSON, EASTIDAHONEWS.COM: It’s a pleasure to talk to you again, Michael. I understand you filmed this Christmas show in September. What was that experience like?
MICHAEL MCLEAN: We filmed it in front of a live, socially-distanced audience down in Cedar City, Utah. Yesterday (Wednesday), I saw it all edited together in a screening room. In 29 years, I have never seen ‘The Forgotten Carols.’ I got a chance to see me on the big screen and that was really freaky.
Every year, I try to add something new (to the show) and last year was a radical reimagining of it and it felt so right — like it was always supposed to be this way. We started planning in January to expand the number of places we could go (on tour) and then COVID hit and I thought, ‘Maybe it’s just not meant to be for this year.’ Then ‘Hamilton’ came out (on Disney+) and I thought ‘Maybe people won’t freak out if they see the play (on the big screen).’ I’ve always wanted it to be a movie with Emily Blunt as Connie Lou and Anthony Hopkins as Uncle John.
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My son, Scott, did a herculean job of figuring out how to take his screenplay and reimagine it for this stage-to-screen adaptation.
NELSON: You spoke with us about producing an actual movie of the play last year. Is that still in the works?
MCLEAN: That’s an interesting question. Forty years ago this month, ‘Mr. Krueger’s Christmas,’ (a film) which I produced, was released to the world. Three hundred million people saw it in several languages. It was an amazing way to tell a great Christmas story.
With ‘The Forgotten Carols,’ … my take was that if this story and these songs could really touch the maximum number of people, we need a big star (like Jimmy Stewart in ‘Mr. Krueger’s Christmas’) and we need to get it all over the world.
I spent years trying to raise money and it didn’t work. We got close but it fell through. I wondered why none of it was working out the way I had hoped. Then something happened.
When we were down filming this in Cedar and word got out to … all these theaters, they needed content. The possibility of ever doing this — I think we’re on nearly 60 screens — was impossible.
Maybe the people who have been watching for 29 years want to have a wonderfully preserved memory of this.
I don’t know what’s coming next. I never know what’s coming next, but I do know that this version preserved this way was what it was always supposed to be … and I’m thrilled that it’s happening now and I hope that people will get tickets to go see it.
By going, it will stay in theaters longer so we can reach more people.
NELSON: COVID-19 took us all by surprise when it hit in March. How have you been holding up through all of this?
MCLEAN: Thanks for asking. In the beginning of this pandemic, we lost two really dear friends of ours to COVID. Lynne (McLean’s wife) and I were going to go down to Indian Wells to … see our friends Blair and Sue Garff and Bob Garff of Ken Garff Automotive Group (a car dealership in Salt Lake City). They both got it and within five weeks, they were both dead. It was awful to watch what they had to go through with ventilators and no one could be with them.
I have diabetes. I have chronic kidney disease and I have always had weak, terrible lungs. My doctors said, ‘McLean, if you get this, you’ll be dead.’ My kids were so protective of me and I’ve been uber careful about getting any kind of exposure.
I was a little concerned about getting in a theater and filming this, but they did such a great job with all the protocols and all the testing daily.
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Just when something would go wrong, I’d think we’re not going to be able to do this. Then a miracle would happen and we were back on, so that’s been sweet.
NELSON: Do you miss being with people and being out in public?
MCLEAN: Are you kidding? Bumping elbows and a mask and waving across the aisle for a guy that was raised in a huggy, kiss everybody family! That’s torture. That’s just the worst.
NELSON: When things get back to normal, what is it you’re most looking forward to doing?
MCLEAN: I think just embracing people I love. Shaking hands, putting my arm around somebody at church, seeing a friend in downtown Heber and saying ‘How the heck are you?’ and giving them a big squeeze. It’s the interaction of human beings (that I miss).
The feeling you get when there is a human connection in the same room at the same time, that’s what’s sustained me (all these years).
At this time of year, (I hope) people will let the magic in the air remind us all, that no matter how tough it may be, we have never been and are not really ever alone.
DOWNLOAD THE FULL INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL MCLEAN.
Watch a trailer of the screen adaptation below.