Utah will be the centerpiece of ABC Family Channel's annual 25 Days of Christmas event albeit in disguise.
"The Mistle-Tones," the cable network's first musical, was filmed in Salt Lake City, Ogden, West Valley City and Pleasant Grove back in March. While the TV movie is set in the fictional, non-specific town of Ridgefield, it has Utah flavor.
"I don't want to say it has a Disney feel here, but it has a nice family feel," said director Paul Hoen, who helmed three previous made-in-Utah TV movies. "It's sort of like the old Main Street USA kind of feel that doesn't really exist anymore, but it seems to still exist in Salt Lake City."
In "The Mistle-Tones," Tia Mowry ("Sister, Sister") stars as Holly, a young woman with a great singing voice who auditions for a spot in a legendary local Christmas group her late mother founded years earlier. But the group's leader, Marci (Tori Spelling, "Beverly Hills, 90210"), gives the spot to a mildly talented friend. Holly forms her own group the Mistle-Tones setting off a competition between the two groups.
It's light-hearted fun with a message about the true meaning of Christmas and lots of traditional carols "so everybody can sing along at home," said executive producer Maggie Malina. "That's part of the fun."
This was the first musical for both Mowry and Spelling and neither had ever sung in a project. They both found that part of the movie "intimidating" and "nerve-wracking."
"I was really shy at first," Mowry said. "And then when I got into the recording studio, the guy said, 'Just belt it, Tia. Just sing.' And I was, like, 'OK.'
"And sometimes when I hear the playbacks, I'm shocked. It's like, 'That's me?' "
Spelling was less enthusiastic about her recording sessions, but no less excited about the movie.
"I love the character," she said. "I don't get many opportunities to play the mean girl. It's really fun. And any time I can infuse comedy into a character, I love that."
Which is why she took the role, despite her apprehensions about the singing and dancing it required.
"I have to tell you, if you take all the fear and the nerves away, it's like this is any girl's dream!" Spelling said. "This is what you do at home when no one's looking, and now I get to do it in a 'Dancing With the Stars' gown in front of everyone."
ABC Family Channel's sister network, Disney, has shot several movies in Utah, including the "High School Musical" trilogy.
"It just seemed like an ideal place to shoot a Christmas movie," Malina said. "Disney has a great history of success here with musicals, so why not come back?"
Malina, Hoen, Mowry and Spelling were all effusive in their praise of the locals from crew members to extras to the people they met on the street.
"Everybody's so nice. They're warm. They're extremely helpful," Mowry said. "And they've been doing these movies for a while here, so they know what they're doing."
The crew was predominantly local, and there are plenty of Utahns on screen. Mostly extras, of course, but also in a few small roles most notably Sydney Sorenson and Britani Bateman as two members of Marci's singing group, the Snow Belles.
"I think the community and the city are part of the success of the movie," Hoen said.
A successful Christmas movie can have a particularly long shelf-life. Odds are "The Mistle-Tones" will still be part of the ABC Family rotation a decade or two from now. Or more.
"So I hope the performances are good," Spelling said with a smile.
"It could be classic," Mowry said. "And that was another reason I decided to do this, because I knew that one day my son could see his mom sing and dance and have a great time in a movie."
The made-in-Utah TV movie musical premieres Sunday, Dec. 9, at 9 and 11 p.m. MT.
It repeats Thursday, Dec. 13, at 6 p.m.; Tuesday, Dec. 18, at 1 a.m.; and Thursday, Dec. 20, at 4 p.m.