His co-host is Bill Sorensen, a former mayor of Bismarck who specializes in genially hokey humor, the kind designed to make the children in the audience laugh, too. The production’s theme this year is heroes, who are mentioned early and often; Cowboy Chet’s first song is “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys.”
What’s startling about the revue is how uncannily it feels like 1970s broadcast television, the sort of variety show where you might see the Osmonds or Bob Hope — only here you’re side by side with families snuggled under blankets against the chill, some with tubs of popcorn in their laps.
“It goes along the old ‘Hee Haw’ T.V. show principle,” said Mr. Rettig, who at 74 is making this his last summer in Medora, where the insidious dust from the hills seeps so deep into his guitar that at season’s end, on his way home to Florida, he takes it to Nashville for cleaning. “When I saw a clip of ‘Hee Haw’ back in England, I thought, I can’t believe they watch this stuff. I mean, it’s so corny it’s just beyond corny. But, you know, it tickles something, and the thing ran and ran. And so does the Medora Musical.”
The national anthem is part of the revue’s first half, with the audience standing to face a flag. The surprise, when I looked around, was how few people were joining in the song. Most of what we heard was the cast, their voices as heavily miked as they are in the rest of the show: a necessity given the wind, which makes sound a different challenge every night.
The horses in the Medora Musical make their appearance early on, in a vignette depicting Roosevelt’s charge at the Battle of San Juan Hill. But the production’s one truly jaw-dropping moment comes later when a horse and rider climb the bluff beyond the stage in the dusk and are lit atop it against an evening sky. It’s an extraordinarily dramatic use of landscape — and the kind of visual that makes you wonder what potential the show could have if seriously deep-pocketed producers ever took the reins. But then it might not be the Medora Musical anymore.
Staying the Same, Differently
In the welcome center off the parking lot, alongside the souvenirs (the most adorable, hands down, being the Official Badlands Teddy Bear, with fringed jacket and pince-nez), is an endearingly homely model of the amphitheater the way it used to be, before reconstruction in the early 1990s. “It was dirt paths with benches that were not level,” recalled Mr. Wollan, who grew up going to Medora in the summertime.
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