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Medora Musical holds auditions for 2011 season

GRAND FORKS -- He may not be a professional horse rider, and he's more of a violist than a fiddler, but Frank Matejcek thinks he's got what it takes to make it in the Wild West.

The Grand Forks native was at the University of North Dakota's Burtness Theatre on Saturday to audition for a role in the Medora Musical, the western musical variety show dedicated to the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt and the time he spent in North Dakota's Badlands before becoming the 26th president.

Matejcek has been involved in music and theater since middle school and recently earned degrees in vocal music education and theater. But he's looking for a summer gig and said the Medora Musical, which he's seen a few times, would be "a lot of fun."

"I've done Frostfire and Crimson Creek and have always been interested in doing Medora, so it would be something different," he said.

About 2,500 performers audition each year to fill about 20 roles. But Matejcek's odds of getting a call back might be boosted a bit -- he was the first, and only, person to audition on Saturday.

It was the first time the show's producer for the past 20 years, Curt Wollan, has come to Grand Forks to look for cast members. He'll hold auditions in Fargo today, and will make stops in Williston, Bismarck, Minneapolis and Memphis, Tenn., over the next few weeks.

A unique show

Wollan said the Medora Musical is "a variety show of epic proportions" that's a little different every night, even if it's been on the stage for 46 years.

"It's kind of like 'The Tonight Show,'" he said. "You know you're turning on the show, but you don't know what you're going to get."

There are certain songs that are crowd favorites, Wollan said, but the musical sets, patriotic finale and opening number changes every year.

"It really is an old-fashioned western variety show," he said.

The cast of about 20 includes 12 singers and dancers, known as the Burning Hills Singers, and a group of six musicians called the Coal Diggers in addition to two co-hosts, several variety and comedy acts and "a bunch of cowboys and horses" to give it a western feel.

The musical is unlike anything in the country, Wollan said, and is "a little bit of vaudeville, a little bit of the old TV variety show and a little bit historical drama."

He said it's known for the ghost ride, a part of the show where Teddy Roosevelt's ghost rides down the side of a butte, just as much as the pitchfork fondue that makes the musical "kind of like giant outdoor dinner theater."

His daughter, Lexie Wollan, said the outdoor setting in the Burning Hills Amphitheatre makes for the "most gorgeous setting you could ever possibly imagine."

"You have the Badlands all around you and the stars above you," she said.

She performed in the musical for eight seasons, but said her ties to the producer still didn't lead to a glamorous first role.

"I was Sheriff Bear," she said.

It required Lexie to wear a fat suit, full bear costume and "big old feet" that she had to practice in for hours to make sure she wouldn't trip during a performance.

"My head did fall off once," she said. "It rolled down the side of the theater, but that was in the dark so I don't think anyone saw it."

She eventually got to play other roles in the musical -- and got to sing and say lines on stage, rather than just miming bear gestures while wearing an oversized costume.

Lexie Wollan was in Grand Forks to assist her father during the auditions, and said she's still deciding if she will perform in the show come summer.

But her ties to the Medora Musical won't end anytime soon -- Lexie, like her father did decades before, met her fiancé while working on the show.

The Medora Musical is performed nightly in the Burning Hill Amphitheatre. The 2011 season will run June 10 through Sept. 10.

For more information on the musical, visit

Johnson is a reporter at the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.