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Michael McLean's Interview with LDS Living

LDSL: What about special behind-the-scenes moments? Can you tell us about some of those?

MM: Once there was a girl who had played Connie Lou the year before, and her only job was that when I come out and do that little dance with Connie Lou, she would come out at that part and dance with Uncle John [McLean] and give him a little kiss on the cheek before she left. Well, she did that, but the next year we went back to that same college and she was now married. She says, “I’m going to play Connie Lou, but I want you to know, Brother McLean, I’m not going to be able to actually kiss you or touch you when I kiss you on the cheek.” And I said, “Well, why?” And she said, “I’m married now; my covenants of fidelity prohibit me from kissing you on the cheek.” And I looked at her, and said, “Really? This is just a character.” And she said, “I know, but I don’t want people to get the wrong idea.” And I said, “You kissed me last year.” And she said “Well, I wasn’t married; I hadn’t made sacred covenants.” So I said “Well, we’ll go through rehearsal, and I understand, you got to do what you got to do.” And her husband was in the choir, so as we go through this part of the show, as she was about to kiss me on the cheek I turned my face right to her and said in front of the choir at rehearsal: “No tongue!” And everybody fell off their chair, and everybody knew who she was—it was the biggest laugh I’ve ever gotten, and I couldn’t use it ever again.

Scott’s best friend from acting academy is a secular Israeli Jew. And when Scott [McLean's son who adapted the story into a play] couldn't do it anymore, he said, “Have Gili direct it.” A story about Jesus? Not a Mormon thing about Jesus—this is about Jesus. And no Christmas shows are about Jesus. It’s A Wonderful Life has a spiritual message, but it’s not about Jesus. The Christmas Carol isn’t about Jesus; it’s about an encounter with these themes, but this show is about everybody’s encounter with Jesus. How is a Jew—not only a Jew, but a secular Jew, he’s not a religious Jew—how’s he going to get it? And Scott said, “Trust me on this, the kid is a beautiful artist and he’ll do great.”

And Gili Getz sees things in The Forgotten Carols that I haven’t seen at all. And because he’s Jewish, we start adding things to the script that have Jewish references, like what we named the shepherd boy was Hebrew for sleeping. “One of the Jewish traditions would be THIS,” he would say, “and maybe we can incorporate it in the way she would dance, and what about this, what about that.” And he saw things in the human component of the story and the spiritual evolution that were insightful and brilliant. And this guy wasn’t a Christian.

So he became this phenomenal addition to the show. All of us became better actors because of his directing skills, and he’s a great actor. From when he took over Scott’s script, every year there would be these improvements, these tightenings based on this adaptation written by Scott that has been evolving under the direction of everybody being guided by this secular Israeli Jew.

Because he was Jewish, we would ask him to say a prayer in Hebrew as we took our turns praying before each show. And we would celebrate Hanukkah with him, and he would light the candles of Hanukkah every night before the show as we celebrated that, and he would give the Hebrew prayer to bless our show. And, I'm telling you--suddenly the inclusiveness and the broadness of that opened our hearts and made us feel that this was a much bigger show than something that is for people who are just Mormons.

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