LDSL: Obviously, with putting on such a big production so many times each year and for so many years, there's a lot of room for mishaps. Can you tell me about some of those?
MM: Once, we had this really clever idea where the cop would come on and get a phone call, because cell phones had just come out. So I would have someone call me onstage, and it could be something from headquarters. I thought this was going to brilliant, this will be a great surprise, no one has seen this before. The problem was, I forgot that other people could call me too if I left the phone on. So at the wrong place in the show I got a phone call, and it’s just ringing on stage. So I had to figure out a way to answer it and make it sound like it was a part of the show. And the person who called me, for the rest of forever, had no idea what I was talking about. And decided that they had to call again because they probably got the wrong number. So I then had to respond to it and turn it off. That was just crazy.
There were times when the microphone wasn’t turned off during one of the numbers when I had to go off stage and change costumes and go to the bathroom and flush and everything.
There was the time where I had to have a surgery in the middle of the tour, and I had one night off. And I have to decide whether I'm going to take my pain meds, which would make me loopy and forget my lyrics, or whether or not I was going to not take them, and be in so much pain I couldn't sit. It was the most brilliant performance of The Forgotten Carols I've ever done because I walked like a guy who'd been around for 2,000 years.
One time when we were down in southern California we had a group of great singers [to sing the “Homeless” a capella song], but the guy blew the pitch pipe in the wrong key, and everyone got the wrong relative pitch, so five guys are singing in five different keys, and the guy who’s supposed to sing the lead doesn’t know who to follow. So here’s this mess, and I’m off stage and you hear this “ehhhh.” It was the only night that I’ve ever done the show that John Batdorf—who wrote the arrangement and sang on the record—had come to see the show. And it was utterly, completely destroyed. It was the worst; I should have just stopped and done an adlib, and gone over to the piano and started it off right. But no, they went on, and it was the most embarrassing performance of “Homeless” there has ever been.
There were times when we had a choir that was so old that they slept through the show, and they were on stage the whole time, and what happened was, I was walking past—because I would perform in front of them and they would just stand—and four of the people of the front row of the choir [were snoring].
Then you have people in the audience who brought way too many kids, and the kids are screaming so loud, so I’m finding ways to try to say something about how to get people out of the room so others can enjoy the show, and still make it feel like it’s part of the program. You know—“And then suddenly Connie Lou and John hear, because the window was open on this cold night, that next door there was a child screaming for his mother to attend to him. And then everyone started applauding because the kid started up crazy, and then I made an enemy of that poor mother who had that child there. She wasn’t coming back.
I did a performance once and got a letter that said, “I’m just writing, Mr. McLean, to tell you that I had this horrible experience with The Forgotten Carols and you should know about it. There’s somebody going out there and doing this show who can’t sing, and I bought this record, and I love this record and I spent all this money to bring my whole family, and this guy gets up, and he can’t act, and he can’t sing, and he tries to do this show like a story and a play and it was just awful. Is there any way I could get my money?” And it was me! This person had seen me and said, “You have a record with these good singers, why couldn’t you just do a concert with those good singers, that would have been plenty for me. But I have to endure this show, and there’s no easy way for me to sneak out. You’re the worst.”