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Romance of the Old West

Press Photo by Linda Sailer Burning Hills Singers Lexi Wollan and Jeremiah Swenson stand beside the Burning Hills Amphitheater stage.

MEDORA -- The Medora Musical celebrates the romance of the Old West through its music, choreography and story lines.

Audiences are entertained with country, gospel and patriotic music before a backdrop of the Badlands and historic Medora.

But romance of the Old West has a contemporary story line. Two couples from the cast and crew met in Medora and will be married in coming months. Past cast members remain married. New friendships are always forming and who knows where they will lead.

"There's definitely something magical in Medora," said Burning Hills Singer Lexi Wollan. "You can't really put it into words."

Wollan met her fiance, Jeremiah Swenson, also a Burning Hills Singer, in Medora and they plan to wed April 30 in Minneapolis.

Coal Diggers fiddle player Mark Baczynski is engaged to Medora Musical sound engineer Kristin Carter. They will be married Aug. 19 in Medora.

Burning Hills singer Katie Riggs also has a special friendship with Nick Kellie, a guitar player for the Coal Diggers.

Romantic relationships are nothing new with the musical.

Lexi Wollan's father, Director/Producer Curt Wollan met his wife, Jane, while he was a Burning Hills Singer in 1977.

"She was working at the city pool teaching Medora kids how to swim," Wollan said.

"We started dating at the end of 1977," he said. "I saw Jane who was at the lifeguard stand and the rest is history."

The two returned to Medora for a second season and they were married in 1980. Wollan started working as the musical's associate producer in 1987 and became producer in 1992.

"We are all together for 12 to 14 weeks, and we get to know each other really well," he said of the crew.

"In fact my son is dating a woman, who also was in the show last year," he said. "Then there's two couples from the 1990s and late 1980s who are still married."

Both were drummers married to Burning Hills Singers, he added.

This is Lexi Wollan's eighth summer with the musical.

"Medora has been part of my life since I was 5 years old," she said. "It's like my summer home. I love doing the show."

This is Swenson's first year as a performer. The previous five years, he worked with musical's stage crew.

"We met back stage the first year in 2004," said Wollan.

He auditioned as a cast singer at the encouragement of Wollan.

"I knew he could do it," she said.

Swenson hails from Stanley and recently graduated from Minot State University with a teaching degree.

The couple started dating in the summer of 2006.

"We started hanging out and it exponentially grew from there," said Swenson.

Off season, they kept in contact while Wollan worked in Dollywood and Minneapolis.

"I was on the train quit a bit," Swenson said.

He describes Medora as a high-energy place.

"It's so unique," added Wollan. "It has a very romantic history -- it's just unlike any other place."

The couple's wedding is at the Nicollet Island Inn located on the Mississippi River.

They are uncertain of where their careers will lead them next year. Swenson would like to teach and Wollan will return to cosmetology school.

"The day I don't come back will be a sad day," she said.

Riggs is from Wichita, Kan., and graduated in 2006 with a musical theater degree from Wichita State University. She auditioned and was accepted as a Burning Hills Singer in 2008, took off a season to work a cruise ship and returned this summer.

Kellie comes from Lancashire, England, and had been living in Nashville, Tenn. working for a guitar instructional website. One of the tutors had been affiliated with the Coal Diggers, and encouraged Kellie to consider applying for an opening.

"He handed the torch over to me," he said. "I ended up here in North Dakota and this is my first summer."

Riggs attributes her friendship with Kellie to having similar interests in the entertainment field.

"I've found actors and musicians tend to relate to one another," added Kellie.

Knowing each other for two months, they have been hanging out with their friends, going to the pool and outings in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

"The summer is going really fast for me," said Riggs.

"You don't have a day off," added Kellie. "Without weekends off, you forget what day it is."

This is Carter's third season as sound engineer for the Medora Musical. A native of Pennsylvania, she has worked with a cruise line sailing the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, to Alaska and Mexico, plus visiting more than 30 countries.

Her biography also includes touring with Disney on Ice, teaching English in Taiwan and touring with the musical, "Church Basement Ladies."

She learned about the Medora opening through an Internet posting.

Baczynski was born in Chicago, but has lived in 45 different places because of the music business. He has played fiddle with the Coal Diggers for the past six years.

The couple met at the beginning of the 2008 season.

"We started hanging out for about two nights, and then we started doing everything together," recalls Baczynski. "I had pretty much kept to myself, working on violin repairs. When Kristin was here, it got me out of the house and we started doing a lot of hiking. We'd travel as far as we can and still get back in time for the show."

They became engaged earlier this summer at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

"We were hiking and we were standing in a prairie dog field," recalls Carter.

Their wedding was set in Medora because their families are so far away. They are close friends of Sheila Schafer, who with the late Harold Schafer, are credited with starting the Medora Musical.

"We are going to be married in the garden of her backyard, which is amazing," said Baczynski.

This fall, Baczynski will work with a Patsy Cline show in Jacksonville, Fla., while Carter will be working with a "Church Basement Ladies" tour.

The Medora Musical, produced by StageWest Entertainment Inc. of Minneapolis, plays through Sept. 5.