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'A Magical Badlands Christmas' in Medora

'A Magical Badlands Christmas' opened Friday, Dec. 4, at the Old Town Hall Theater and is already sold out for the remaining December performances. Although in-house tickets are gone, the show is making its way to livestream and on-demand viewings this weekend as creator Bill Sorenson continues to showcase western, holiday talent.

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J'Kobe Wallace is one of eight cast members of "A Magical Badlands Christmas," which makes it way for the first-time ever to livestream and on-demand viewing options. Wallace and his cast mates bring a western, family spirit to the musical with classical Christmas tunes and comical skits. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)
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Gents and ladies sporting suede fringe leather coats, jean jackets, cowboy hats and red cowgirl boots emerge from behind the curtain. A twain-like riff from the acoustic guitar player sets the cast off into a swinging Christmas tune. With only a crowd of 50, Bill Sorenson still finds a way to captivate the holiday spirit with a magical musical.

“A Magical Badlands Christmas” kicked off Friday at the Old Town Hall Theater in Medora and will continue its performances Dec. 11-12 and 18-19. Though the in-house tickets are sold out, for the first ever, the traveling show makes it way to livestream and on-demand viewing options for people to enjoy at the comfort of their own homes.

From “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to “The Little Drummer Boy,” the show cultivates a unity people are seeking this time of year. Typically, the Christmas musical acts as a touring show, traveling all across North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana with 30 shows in 30 days. Considering the measures the cast took, wearing masks in between songs and spaced out at appropriate lengths, the show prevailed expectations for Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation President Randy Hatzenbuhler.

“... We did say, ‘Well, how are we going to take the show to those people?’ And that’s one of things that COVID has done; it has created ways for people to be innovative and we’re very excited how well it translates and how many people will enjoy it,” Hatzenbuhler said. “I think there’s something authentic about the Christmas show we have put on for the last several years and what I saw the other day in Medora, it is absolutely there. I think people want that. It’s why the Medora Musical is appreciated and has lasted so long when there’s an authentic desire to make people smile and feel good through laughter and music — that translates. Since we cannot go on the road because of (COVID-19), this is the best way that we can do that.”

Dorothy Sheldon of Regent drove over to Medora with her husband for the sixth time this year because of the level of entertainment they are blessed with each time they visit.

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“I thought it was inspirational and it’s just a nice start to the Christmas season. You kind of need some Christmas music to get you into the spirit particularly when there’s no snow — it doesn’t look like Christmas,” Sheldon said. “But it was a wonderful show. The talent is amazing; it was fun to see some of the people we see at the musical and some of them that we’ve seen over the years because we come every year for the musical.”

The finale is something to witness, Sheldon said, adding that the show recaps the whole Christmas vibe and will make you want to sing along.

“It’s important just because people want to get out; they want to be around other people even if they have to be social distancing or whatever. It’s just important to keep some of these things going,” Sheldon added.

For the sixth year, Sorenson continues to spread theater and western comedy in a wholesome performance. Though he and his cast are not entertaining 14,000 people in-person this year, Sorenson said that people should tune into the show for its local feel showcasing North Dakota talent and it will put viewers in a Christmas mood.

“I kind of have fun in everything that I do. I enjoy trying to figure out ways to showcase different people and try to have some fun songs mixed in and some traditional songs and some other songs that might be a little more moving. I love being able to be a part of putting it together,” Sorenson said.

With this year’s immense amount of trials with the coronavirus pandemic, Sorenson noted that people need Christmas more than ever so he divided the show into three acts: friends, family and faith.

Even though Hatzenbuhler has seen Sorenson perform multiple times, he has a way to dazzle crowds.

“Bill gets almost emotional on stage at times. You can see his eyes mist up with joy when he’s connecting with the audience … I think Bill’s purpose in life, he will tell you, is to make people smile. So people feel that,” Hatzenbuhler said. “I’ve heard Bill tell the same jokes a thousand times and I laugh every time. I still want to hear Bill Sorenson make people laugh and smile.”

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With the first livestream making its way to the virtual screen this weekend, the cast hopes to put a little extra jolly in the festive air.

“We’re just hopeful that some people will tune in,” Sorenson said. “It’s not one of the things we can make any money yet sort-to-speak, with 50 people per show. But hopefully we can bring a little Christmas cheer a little perspective to everything else going on in the world right now and I think that’s important.”

The show will be livestreamed from the Old Town Hall Theater Dec. 12 in which purchasers will have access to watch either or both, live shows happening at 3 p.m. MDT and 7:30 p.m. MDT. A live recording of the Dec. 12 show will be available starting Dec. 13 for on-demand streaming and the link will be available for 48 hours. To purchase the livestream or on-demand link, visit medora.com/badlandschristmas.

Jackie Jahfetson is a graduate of Northern Michigan University whose journalism path began in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as a freelancer for The Daily Mining Gazette. Her previous roles include editor-in-chief at The North Wind and reporter at The Mining Journal in Marquette, Mich. Raised on a dairy farm, she immediately knew Dickinson would be her first destination west as she focuses on gaining aptitude for ranch life, crop farming and everything agriculture. She covers hard news stories centered on government, fires, crime and education. When not fulfilling deadlines and attending city commission meetings, she is a budding musician and singer.
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