The following story by Jackie Jahfetson originally appeared in The Dickinson Press on June 16th, 2021:
With a little more than 90 minutes, a cast dazzled in rhinestone-western attire stand on stage and tell a romancing story of the Wild West, rehashing historical moments of Theodore Roosevelt’s old stomping grounds in the city of Medora.
The “Medora Musical” has returned to the Burning Hills Amphitheatre. Already more than six performances into the 2021 season, Director and Producer Curt Wollan noted that the show gets better each time the lights hit the stage.
“People love to come back because it’s so unique and different. There’s not a show like this anywhere in the country,” Curt Wollan said. “Maybe (there is) in Europe, but they don’t celebrate any political figures like Theodore Roosevelt… This is such a mixture of history (and) variety show and spectacle, and what they used to call ‘epic theater’ — which is when we do the charge of San Juan Hill. It’s huge. It’s stuff blowing up all over the place. So it’s so unique and it’s become such a tradition.”
Music is meshed with contemporary to older country, gospel, patriotic and North Dakota-themed songs. With the “Medora Musical” reining in its 56th year on stage, Curt Wollan said that it has changed due to the evolution of technology, making performances more slick and professional. Each year, the music changes, costumes are redesigned and sets vary. By incorporating a new theme with every summer show season, it allows for the musical to grow, he said. This year, the theme highlights the couples that settled in Medora and played a major role in making it the city that it is today.
“… People want to see what they like and they want to see some new stuff too. So the trick in all of this is trying to do a show (and) write a show that gives them a touch of everything — the charge of San Juan Hill, the patriotic finale, the fireworks, the horses, great Teddy quotes and speeches, singing, dancing, clogging and the great songs that have been written for this show in the past,” Curt Wollan said.
For an entire summer show season, Curt Wollan and his cast begin preparation already in the winter with script writing kicking off in January, followed by auditions — which all took place virtually this past audition season. Rehearsals are approximately one month long.
With his father being the director and producer of the show, Chet Wollan has been involved with the Medora Musical for 15 years along with his wife Candice Lively Wollan that’s returning to the stage for her 11th summer in Medora.
“I love that it’s different every year, so it makes it more interesting instead of a lot of the (other) places you go and you do the same show over and over again; it gets kind of boring. But out here, it’s got the same elephants… (yet) every year it’s got different songs and different people,” Chet Wollan said.
Being involved in the show is a way for the married couple actors to hone in on their craft, and coming back to Medora every summer is like a second home for the Wollans, who live a majority of the year at their home in Tennessee.
“Every year, with it being different, you get to shine in different ways. I don’t have the same solos every year, so that’s really nice to be able to do something different… Every year is a blessing,” Candice Lively Wollan said, who is a Burning Hills singer, company manager and dance captain.
Chet Wollan was a singer/dancer for nine years. Then six years ago, he hung up his dancing shoes to play the role of the host and spent four years alongside longtime entertainer Bill Sorenson. Now, Chet Wollan hosts the show with Annie Freres.
“I think people (will) take away that we’re doing a lot of history stuff this year (and) a lot of cool stories about a lot of different people that worked and lived out here. And actually how difficult it was back then to have the gumption to just do that,” Chet Wollan said.
What started back in 1965 is still relatable in today’s world, Curt Wollan noted.
“It’s a great escape. For a family taking a trip from Connecticut… on their way through Yellowstone, it’s super family-friendly. It’s a great stop on the way and with the park, fondue and all the interesting things to do here,” Curt Wollan said. “… (When) the buildings open up, revealing the Badlands, it’s so spectacular. You can’t paint that.”
For more information on the “Medora Musical” and to reserve tickets, visit medora.com/do/entertainment/medora-musical.