Former Bismarck mayor and longtime performer co-hosts Medora Musical with Queen of the West Emily Walter
MEDORA - Each night, about 20 minutes before the Medora Musical begins, Bill Sorenson invites all the children under 12 in attendance to come to the stage and help with magic. Everyone receives a magic wand and learns some magic words to help boost the power behind the illusions he performs throughout the show, which begins every evening from now until Sept. 7 at 7:30 p.m.
He never set out to be a performer, but Sorenson has a key role in this year's Medora Musical: co-host with Queen of the West Emily Walter.
"That's one of the big bright spots of this year's Musical," said Sheila Schafer, the mother of modern Medora. "Bill's been a friend of mine and our family forever. We just love him and think of him as one of ours."
Sheila's late husband, Harold Schafer, was founder of the Gold Seal Co., the creator of Mr. Bubble bubble bath. It was Harold's financial backing and vision that made Medora the attraction it is today.
"We always try to think of what we're going to do with the little kids every year," Sheila said. "That was all solved this year because Bill's up there doing magic and then they all end up with a magic wand."
The former Bismarck mayor has been performing magic in Medora his whole adult life.
His show, 4-M Revue, with musician Clyde Bauman and his Mylo Hatzenbuhler character, is in its 30th year.
"I started it as kind of a fun thing that I thought would be a fun way to spend a few weekends of one summer -- one of those things where you make decisions in your life and you don't know where they're going to lead," Sorenson said.
He began performing in Medora right after college, the summer of 1976, for seven years before joining Bauman, a Dickinson State University graduate.
"I absolutely love Medora," Sorenson said. "I love my time here. And still, after doing several thousand shows, I still love doing shows."
Sorenson grew up in Bismarck and took many trips to Medora with his family throughout his childhood. He was a shy kid, never one to grab the spotlight, and didn't get into performing until college.
"I went to Bismarck Junior College before I went to Concordia and the lady there convinced me to be in a play," Sorenson said. "That kind of started me down that path."
After transferring from Bismarck to Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., he kept up with theater, squeezing productions in between academics and athletics.
He started performing magic shows in Medora to entertain travelers in the afternoon before the Musical.
"They sold tickets the day of, you couldn't buy tickets in advance for the Medora Musical, you bought them the day of," Sorenson said. "And they started selling them at noon, so everybody showed up in Medora at 11 o'clock in the morning and got in line to buy tickets. At 1 o'clock they had sold them all. The idea was, a lot of these people have been here lots of times, let's give them an opportunity to do something else in the afternoon."
Sorenson was involved in several ventures throughout the years. He had most of his success in the telephone and computer business, he managed North Dakota boxing sensation Virgil Hill, along with other sporting ventures, was in the state Legislature and was elected mayor of his hometown in 1990.
Throughout all of this, he found time every weekend in the summer to drive to Medora and perform magic shows at the Old Town Hall Theater.
"That's my golf game," Sorenson said. "I come out here and forget about everything else and have fun for a couple days and then go back to the real world."
He stepped down as Bismarck mayor in 2002.
"I was mayor for 12 years," Sorenson said. "I thought after eight that I probably should (step down), but I had a couple of projects. I think it's one of those jobs you're not supposed to keep forever."
He preferred being mayor to being in the Legislature.
"I loved being mayor, I LOVED being mayor," Sorenson said. "No matter how much controversy there was, there was never a meeting I didn't look forward to."
In the 11 years since he has sold a lot of his business ventures. He recently had some health issues, which led him to Medora this summer.
"I've told people I'm doing a Teddy Roosevelt, I'm running away to Medora for the summer," Sorenson said. "I'm trying to decide this summer whether I'm going to retire or whether I'm just going to do some business development things, whether I'm just going to speak at banquets full time, what I want to do with the rest of the time. I'm kind of using it for some self-introspective."
Sorenson joining the cast was a bit of a natural progression after performing in Medora all these years, Sheila said.
"He's such a great family man and that's really what the Medora Musical is all about, a family-friendly show," said Mike Beaudoin, chief operating officer of the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, the group behind many Medora events and attractions. "He's a great talent as well. He's been performing in Medora for a long, long time and so, quite frankly, I think we waited too long to bring him on board."
Being a full-time member of the Musical, Sorenson no longer drives the 2-hour stretch of Interstate 94 that connects the state capitol to the Old West.
"My kids will be here off and on all summer, which is one of the delights," Sorenson said. "As are my siblings coming to visit me."
Last year, Sorenson did a guest spot in the Musical and was invited back this year to use his magic as a distraction during set and costume changes.
"Originally it was going to be a lot more," Sorenson said of his magic. "As it turned out, I kind of run in and out of the show and don't do a whole lot of other stuff.
"I get to do what I love, I get to do something that I love in a place that I love," Sorenson said. "It just doesn't get any better."