As with most topic in this blog, I am only stating my opinion here:
So the other night I saw a production of Michael McLean's The Forgotten Carols directed by my friend. Those of you unfamiliar with The Forgotten Carols, it has become a holiday tradition among many Mormons. Michael McLean, who I have alluded to before without actually mentioning his name, is a Mormon composer famous for his inspirational and uplifting music. I feel the way about his music as I do many Mormon pop artists (defined as contemporary Mormon composers who write music specifically for a Mormon audience): I find a lot of his stuff cheesy and kind of sappy. That isn't to say I haven't been inspired or moved by some of his songs. I remember being very touched at a difficult point in my life by one of his famous songs, "You're Not Alone." Even in The Forgotten Carols itself, I quite like the song "Joseph (I Was Not His Father, He Was Mine." And although I mostly find his tunes a bit treacly, I think he's a relatively talented composer of overly sentimental songs.
What I think he absolutely sucks at is playwriting, and this production of The Forgotten Carols only reaffirmed that. I have seen The Forgotten Carols. In fact, the version I saw starred Michael McLean himself. The version I saw was done more as a reading, with McLean telling the story of Constance, a nurse with a stick so far up her butt that she needs an angel of sorts named John to help her open her heart to the true spirit of Christmas. McLean sang all of the songs himself (yikes! Composer, yes. Good singer, no!) with a choir backing him up. I thought the show was so-so, but at least thought it sort of worked in a kind of "bedtime story" format.
This production I saw was a full-scale, dramatized production with individual actors playing the various characters in the story. The script has also suffered some "improvements," and is somewhat different from the version I saw. What is blatantly obvious to me is that McLean's dialogue, plot development, and character development are very weak. There are scenes that are completely unnecessary. Instead of moving the plot along, they leave you asking, "What the...?" There is a backstory for Constance that is poorly developed and, frankly, of little aid in helping us understand why she is the way she is even though that is its exact intended purpose. When her character does finally have a change of heart, it happens on a dime and seems to have nothing powerful enough behind it to warrant it. Most of the dialogue is very wooden.
I get why people like the show. It's got some moving music and it's got a positive, family-friendly message. I just think it's terribly written and poorly developed.
My director friend agrees whole-heartedly with my assessment of the show, and in fact, knew what my criticisms of the show would be before I even told him. Like he says, "it is what it is." Why is he directing it, you ask? Well, he knows (as do I) that it will be a sure-fire hit in this very conservative, Mormon town in which we live. And I guess that's what annoys me the most; that audiences so often would rather see mediocre, feel-good entertainment even if its badly written than they would thought-provoking, well-written material that offends their sensibilities. Furthermore, they will give that same poorly-written material standing ovations and cheers as if it's the greatest theatre they've ever seen.
I wrote about this before when I saw a production of Michael McLean's show The Ark, which frankly, makes The Forgotten Carols look like Hamlet. I'm far more offended by mediocre (or less-than-mediocre) theatre than I am by nudity or profanity in a well-written, thought-provoking piece. I'd rather see some edgy independent film than a mainstream Adam Sandler movie. I'd rather see some experimental musical by Stephen Sondheim that the general populous doesn't get than some overrated show about cats or trains by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
I guess another thing that bothers me is that I've met Michael McLean. I have nothing against him, but he does come across as having a bit of an ego. He regards his work in a much higher esteem than I do, and he probably can justly feel that way because the Mormon masses have taken to it so readily. I'm sure in his mind because his music and shows have touched, moved, and inspired people, that must mean they're well-written and beautifully constructed; but I say just because something makes you feel good, that doesn't make it a masterpiece. Mamma Mia! makes me feel happy and gay (pun intended) when I leave the theater, but I'll be the first to admit it isn't Shakespeare or Shaw or Chekhov or Sondheim. There are plenty of feel-good movies out there that you may leave feeling moved, but you realize it did so with artificiality and manipulation rather than through a well-constructed storyline or characters.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying there isn't a place in the world for feel-good entertainment. I love Mamma Mia! for example. I like the movie Deep Impact, but I won't tell you it's a great movie. The movie "Scavenger Hunt" always makes me laugh, but it is a terrible movie. I understand why silly melodramas or overly sentimental shows are appealing to people. What I tire of is the accolades some works receive without really being deserving of them, and what's even worse is when those works are presented in a shoddy manner. Mamma Mia! and Deep Impact are certainly a lot better constructed than The Forgotten Carols, but I wouldn't dream of awarding either a Tony or an Oscar, respectively. I teach musical theatre, and while I enjoyed Mamma Mia!, it is a mere blip in musical theatre history as far as I'm concerned and is barely worth mentioning. The Forgotten Carols isn't even in the same league. The songs are salvageable, but the script needs major help.
I don't know why I'm on such a tirade about this. It really isn't that important, and now that I've written my thoughts, I wonder if it's even worth posting. I just hate bad theatre! Oh, well. Here it is, for what it's worth. Enjoy.