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Medora Musical ‘looking forward’

Damon Fitcher, of Dickinson, N.D., has been attending the Medora Musical since he was a child. This is his third year being cast in the musical. PHOTO BY Kalsey Stults1 / 2
New show narrator Chet Wollan and his wife, Candice practice during a dress rehearsal last Wednesday inside the Burning Hills Ampitheatre in Medora, N.D. PHOTO BY Kalsey Stults2 / 2

The Medora Musical kicked off its 51st season this month at the Burning Hills Amphitheatre, with a few changes in store.

“We put a lot of time last year in remember the past 50 years and now it’s about looking forward,” said Chet Wollan, the show’s new narrator and co-host alongside Bill Sorensen.

Wollan was a Burning Hills Singer for nine years and is no stranger to the “The Greatest Show in the West.”

His father has directed the show since the late 1980s, his sister performed as a Burning Hills Singer in the early 2000s and his wife, Candice, performs alongside her husband as a Burning Hills Singer.

“I grew up here every summer,” Chet Wollan said. “This was my Disneyland growing up. I didn’t want to go anywhere else besides Medora.”

Wollan said he looks forward to coming to Medora every summer.

“It’s like home,” he said. “I love it.”

Though he has a new role in the musical, he said he likes it so far.

“Nine years of being a Burning Hill Singer is very specific,” he said. “You go out there, you sing your songs, you dance your numbers and then you wave and you leave. This is the other end of it. It’s the flow factor.”

Wollan said in his narrating role, he has to make sure the show and the dialogue keeps moving while being conscious of the show’s two-hour run time.

Emily Walter, the previous narrator and co-host of the show, is leading a new musical show, the Medora Gospel Brunch in town.

“The gospel segment of the Medora Musical has always been a favorite,” said Justin Fisk, TRMF marketing director. “So this year we have launched a brand new show for weekends. With great brunch and a high energy, uplifting show three times per weekend, it will be a fun addition to folks’ traditional Medora Musical experience in Medora.”

The Medora Gospel Brunch opens two weeks after the Medora Musical on June 18.

One face that may be similar to visitors to the musical is Damon Fitcher, a Dickinson, N.D., native entering his third year as a Burning Hills Singer.

Fichter said he has been to the musical every year. Although, he said as a young child, he was afraid to come up on stage when kids are invited to do so before the show, he always dreamed of performing on the Burning Hills stage.

“Watching the show as a kid, I always wanted to be up on stage here and do the show,” Fichter said.

“Actually accomplishing that goal has shaped me to shoot for bigger things and be able to know that I can accomplish whatever I put my mind to.”

The Burning Hills Singer said even though they have long days of practicing and a summer full of shows, everyone gets along.

“It’s challenging if you have tough people to work with, but with this cast we all work together really well and our personalities mesh really well,” he said.

This year also marks the first musical without the late Sheila Schafer in the audience.

Schafer passed away at the age of 90 in March. She, along with her husband Harold, helped shape Medora into a tourist mecca and was instrumental in making the Medora Musical what it is today.

“It’s going to be weird to not to look out ever and not see her in that chair,” Wollan said. “She makes the same yelling noise and it will be weird to not hear that anymore.”

This year’s show will feature a tribute to Sheila Schafer.

Fisk said visitors to the musical this year can expect “a brand new take on their favorite Medora Musical.”

There will be some of attendees’ favorite numbers and parts of the show, plus a new twist on the story of Theodore Roosevelt and the Badlands.”

The Medora Musical begins at 7 p.m. today and runs every day through Sept. 10.

Tickets can be purchased at medora.com.

Medora Musical cast

Co-hosts: Chet Wollan (“Cowboy Chet”); Bill Sorensen (“Wild West Prestidigitator”).

2016 Burning Hills Singers: TJ Besler, Manchester, Iowa; Jessica Bradish, Des Moines, Iowa; Randall Brown, Waynesville, N.C.; Damon Fichter, Dickinson; Misti Koop, Grand Forks; Kevin Korczynski, Bel Air, Md.; Candice Lively-Wollan, Strawberry Plains, Tenn.; Michael Martin, Cleveland, Tenn.; Ken Quiricone, Stratford, Conn.; Carolyn Schmitz, Wells, Minn., Kimberly Willow, Spencer, Iowa; Janet Wiggins, Wichita, Kan.

2016 Coal Diggers Band: Ed Avila, bass, North Plainfield, N.J., Marcus Bohn, drums, St. Paul, Minn.; Tyler Jewell, guitar, Springfield, Mo., Josh McFerren, fiddle, Grazeyburg, Ohio; Roger Rettig, pedal steel, London; Chad Willow, keyboards, Two Harbors, Minn.

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