Michael McLean is an extremely-gifted, world-renowned composer, musician, playwright, author, and filmmaker. His larger-than-life personality and life experiences surely make him one of a kind. He’s spontaneous, funny, gracious — and he calls the Heber Valley home.
“I wasn’t born in Heber, but I got here as soon as I could,” explains McLean, who partnered with a good friend in 1984 to acquire 21 acres in Daniel. “People who’ve lived here, I’m convinced, when they die and go to heaven, nothing’s changed except they can have all the Trainburgers and shakes they want, and they won’t put on weight,” he proclaims.
A Christmas Classic
Of all his many accomplishments, McLean is best known for creating the enduring and powerful Christmas musical The Forgotten Carols. This story was created right here in the Heber Valley 29 years ago and has grown and evolved, only getting bigger and better over the years with performances across the country.
“The Forgotten Carols has always been, for me, the gift that keeps on giving,” says McLean. Last year he was excited because of the rewrite and reimagined changes that were made. “It’s given me a new reason to get up every morning and learn how to tell this story in a way that’s deeper, more hopeful, more fun, and more relevant in these times where so many are crying, ‘I cannot find my way at all.’”
The show seems to resonate with people because of its real-life application and truth. The story is about a nurse who hasn’t felt much of anything for a very long time and meets a patient who claims to have been around for thousands of years. This patient goes on to share personal stories of various people not typically remembered in the nativity story.
McLean reflects, “I see myself in the characters and their ‘forgotten carols.’
“I’m like the innkeeper who turned away Joseph and Mary. I’m not a bad guy; I’m just so busy that I miss things that truly matter.
“I’m like the shepherd who fell asleep that first Christmas and missed everything — and the only way I know about it is the feeling I get from hearing others tell me about it.”
Because the characters and their stories are so relatable, this Christmas classic makes audiences truly connect and reflect on the holiday’s true meaning.
“I think that might be happening for those who have made The Forgotten Carols a tradition. They see themselves in the story, and it helps them remember what they’ve forgotten about the holiday,” McLean supposes. “I also think that the response to The Forgotten Carols is that it is unapologetically about Jesus — about seeing His birth and feeling ‘the magic in the air’ that comes when this story is told.”
“I’ve got to say, I don’t know how it’s possible to tell the same story so differently and have it feel more familiar than ever.”
A Tradition Saved
Because of the current conditions of COVID, this year’s performance of The Forgotten Carols will be more memorable than ever. Through miracles of timing, venues, grants, positive COVID tests, among others, The Forgotten Carols can still be a part of many family Christmas traditions. Last year’s script changes were inspired for that time and even more so for today. It will be shown at movie theaters across the country as a recorded live production of one of the most touching performances ever done at Heritage Theater in Cedar City, Utah, with a masked live socially distanced audience. Because it was filmed using 15 camera angles, The Forgotten Carols will be better than ever. Think of it in the same category as Disney+’s debut of Hamilton. Michael McLean calls this the “No excuses” tour as it will be more accessible than before — something that defies the pandemic.
A Different Kind of Christmas Star
Throughout McLean’s storied career, he has had countless memorable moments and special performances. However, one of his most treasured experiences was working with Jimmy Stewart, the legendary actor who played George Bailey in the Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life.
In his own words, McLean tells what he learned from the star:
“Back in 1980, I was lucky enough to produce a television show called Mr. Krueger’s Christmas starring a truly world-famous person: James Stewart, Academy Award-winning actor, and my hero. In the time I worked with him, I noticed how he handled his fame.
People came up to him out of nowhere to meet him, shake his hand, get an autograph, tell him their story, and their connection to him or one of his legendary films. It was utterly amazing how gracious and kind and personal he was with everyone who interrupted his day. I asked him how he was able to do it, and he told me that he believed every one of those people were his partners.
They had paid for his house in Beverly Hills, got his kids through college, gave him a chance to do the work he loved — and that he owed it to them to show his gratitude for their encouragement and support of him. He then added, ‘If I’m not up to treating everyone that way . . . I stay home.’
I never forgot that, and when somebody recognizes me and wants to make a connection, I think of the most famous person I ever worked with and try to follow his example.”
It’s a Wonderful Life in Heber valley
Just like everyone, McLean’s life has not been without challenges and trials. He’s endured failures and frustration; tackled fears and hopelessness. He battles depression. He’s grateful to have survived a nine-year faith crisis, and for the lessons he wouldn’t have learned any other way. He knows it’s the people around you that make life wonderful.
There’s a little piece of the Heber Valley in everything he does. He explains, “I am crazy about Wasatch County. I love, love, love living here and want who I am and my work to reflect positively on the gift I’ve been given of being among you. As much as the spectacular surroundings fill my soul and inspire me every day, it’s the people I’m lucky enough to live around that remind me who I hope to become.”
The Forgotten Carols film will be released starting November 19 and playing at The Avon Theatre in Heber. Find more info online at forgottencarols.com.