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Burning Hills Singers perform Medora Musical
The Burning Hills Singers sing and dance during a performance of the Medora Musical. Photo courtesy Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation

Medora Musical

Since 1965, nearly two million people have enjoyed this outdoor theater musical in historic Medora, North Dakota, about U.S. President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt when he was a "Rough Rider" cowboy in the North Dakota badlands during the 1880s. Roosevelt said that if he had not gone West as a young man, he may not have developed the traits and the "bully spirit" that enabled him to become President.

Among the country's finest outdoor theaters, Burning Hills Amphitheatre was "hand carved" out of the badlands in 1958 by local volunteers. Its location in the natural bowl provides excellent acoustics and majestic views for the Medora Musical.

North Dakota businessman Harold Schafer purchased the Burning Hills theater in 1965, and began a restoration project, that included revising the show and recruiting new talent. The result is a fast-moving mix of singing, dancing, variety acts, dramatic scenes, horses, riders, wagons, and stunt men shooting, fighting and falling from large rocks. All is accompanied by theater organ music.

During the show's patriotic finale, Roosevelt's recorded voice is heard from a darkened stage under the stars. Then music swells as rockets burst in the sky, a huge Roosevelt "face-in-fireworks" glows on the site of the butte, and the stage sparkles as the cast takes bows.

In 1986, Schafer created the non-profit Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation and gifted his properties, including the Burning Hills Amphitheater and the Medora Musical production, to the foundation. In 1991 the theater received a $4.1 million restoration, which also enlarged capacity to 2,863 seats. Restoration funding was a statewide endeavor. Funds also came from state and federal grants, corporate gifts, and individual donors, who included 1,700 people who gave $1,000 each to dedicate seats in their names.

The Medora Musical is presented every night from early June through the first Sunday in September, and is a popular stop on the motorcoach tour circuit. Many performers are long time favorites, such as Bob Bergman, who logged more than 1,000 performances as the "Old Timer," and local cowboy, Lyle Glass, who has portrayed Roosevelt's ghost ride up a badlands butte for more than 2,600 performances.

Documentation includes twenty photographs, copies of each program since 1965, an eight-page text about the history of the Medora Musical, and a 1992 video.

Originally submitted by: Kent Conrad, Senator.

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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