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Behind the Scenes of the Greatest Show in the West

Posted by Annie Bennett, Co-Editor; Photos courtesy of Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation 8/24/2023 9:18:24 AM

The Medora Musical has been entertaining visitors every summer since 1965. Described as a “high-energy, country-western variety show [where] you’ll see singing and dancing by the Burning Hills Singers and Coal Diggers Band, live horses on stage, a dramatic reenactment of Theodore Roosevelt’s famous charge during the battle of San Juan Hill, and a big patriotic finale with Fireworks … and oh, so much more” by the Medora website, the musical draws an average of 120,000 visitors a year and has welcomed more than 4.5 million guests in the past 58 years.

Creating the Medora Musical

The Medora Musical’s Burning Hills Singers perform six nights a week, sometimes two shows a day, from early June to early September. “On average, there are 105 Medora Musicals each summer,” says Kaelee Wallace, marketing and communications director at the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation (TRMF). “With the added double shows on Saturdays and Sundays in July and August, we have been able to accommodate more performance times.”

Six male and six female Burning Hills singers and two hosts make up the musical’s cast, and Wallace says the casting process begins prior to auditions. “Our production company takes a look at potential, returning talent from the previous summer, as well as what new talent positions we need to fill,” notes Wallace. “Based on this information, we go into auditions knowing how many male and female spots we need to fill, as well as what vocal ranges, stage presence and dance techniques we’re looking for.”

“Burning Hills singers participating in auditions are expected to prepare a ballad and an up-tempo song, as well as a live dance portion,” says Wallace.

Once selected for the musical, the Burning Hills Singers are expected to arrive in Medora beginning in May and stay through early September. “The cast typically arrives in Medora three and a half weeks prior to opening day. During this time, they are participating in an average of eight to 10 hours of performance time a day.”

Bismarck native Taylor (Leet) Vogel has been a Burning Hills singer since 2017. As a child, Vogel visited Medora every summer with her family and loved the Medora Musical. “It was a family tradition to see the Medora Musical every summer. I remember as a child, I was in awe of the Burning Hills Singers. They were celebrities in my world,” says Vogel. “I loved the portion of the show where they invited the kids on stage. There is a photo of my younger self on stage, tall and gangly, in overalls grinning ear to ear. Fast forward to 2017, I was able to live out that dream and perform on that stage.”

Vogel was encouraged by her voice teacher, Kathryn Ring, to audition for the Medora Musical.

“She had contacts who gave me information, and soon after, I was at the live auditions,” she says. “Getting to perform every night is amazing. The rush when I first step foot on the stage is exhilarating.”

TRMF contracts with a production company that writes, casts, outfits, and produces the Medora Musical.

The Show Must Go On

While the musical is carefully choreographed and rehearsed, both Vogel and Wallace say there are bound to be a few bumps in the road with live performances. “Sometimes we have ‘quick changes’ where we pre-set our next costume backstage because there is not enough time to run downstairs,” says Vogel. “I remember one year, I had to run down the stairs through a long hallway to the dressing room. While I was running, I threw my hat, belt and boots just to make the change. Luckily, I made the costume change every time!”

“Mishaps are inevitable in live theater,” she continues. “My mishap was during one of the first years I was in the show where I had a duet with another Burning Hills Singer. I was very confident waiting backstage in the wings and realized I had forgotten my sparkly western belt. Before I could fully think through my decision, I ran downstairs and grabbed my belt from the dressing room. I ran back up the stairs at full speed and tried to gather myself before walking on stage. I thought I had enough time to regulate my breathing, but I was sorely mistaken. The first phrase out of my mouth was weak, breathy and barely audible. After the show, several of the Burning Hills Singers asked what happened and if I was ok. Moral of the story: If you have a solo coming up, forget the belt!”

In the event a Burning Hills singer is ill or injured and is not able to perform, the show still goes on without missing a beat. “Our production company has a clear plan in place to bring in what we call swing performers to fill gaps and take the stage for that evening,” says Wallace. “That often means other Burning Hills Singers on stage will take on additional songs to make the show as on script as possible.”

“I think dealing with the elements can be tough at times,” says Vogel, noting the opportunity to perform outdoors is spectacular, but there are natural setbacks. “Weather can play a huge role in how the show goes. Apart from thunderstorms, the heat can be a significant factor. I have learned throughout the years to take care of my body by hydrating, getting adequate sleep and eating healthy.”


The Greatest Show in the West

Each night, prior to the Medora Musical, a 35-minute Behind the Scenes walking tour is offered. “Folks can expect to learn about the history of the show, venue and set,” says Wallace. “They also get a first-hand look at the set, stage and some secret surprises you wouldn’t expect to what makes the Medora Musical run.”

“The best part of being a Burning Hills Singer is getting to perform for thousands of people every night,” says Vogel. “You also tend to get very close as a cast because you spend so much time together. I am still in touch with several cast members from previous years. The bonds you create in Medora can last for a lifetime.”

“Medora is such a hidden gem,” Vogel adds. “Whenever I mention Medora to friends who live out of state, they often ask, ‘Why Medora?’ My response is always, ‘You have to see it in person to fully appreciate its raw beauty.’ From the natural ruggedness of the badlands to the welcoming locals to the TRMF employees who work so hard, Medora is really a special place. I am looking forward to this summer, the new cast and the memories that will be made!”

The 2023 Medora Musical runs Tuesday to Sunday from June 7 to September 9, weather permitting. “All kids ages 17 and under attend the Medora Musical free of charge June 7 through June 21 in an effort to connect more families to Medora for positive, life-changing experiences,” says Wallace.

For more information on showtimes, prices and additional details, visit


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