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Lights, camera, horses: 'Medora Musical' returns to Burning Hills Ampitheatre for summer kickoff

“... It’s very exciting to be a part of it now and I know the crowds here are wonderful because I’ve seen the show a lot of times and audiences here just love the show and we’re going to do our very best to make it very memorable for them as well," new co-host Tim Drake said.

Riders on horses act during the "Medora Musical," which is set to return to the Burning Hills Amphitheatre on June 8, 2022, in Medora, North Dakota.
Riders on horses act during the "Medora Musical," which is set to return to the Burning Hills Amphitheatre on June 8, 2022, in Medora, North Dakota. The musical features a vareity-filled show with country-western music, dancing, live horses on stage as well as the reenactment of Theodore Roosevelt's famous charge during the battle of San Juan Hill.
Contributed / Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation
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MEDORA, N.D. — Western twang with hits like “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” and live action on horses will accompany the historical spirit that tells a story about how Medora came to be in a one of a kind summer musical in the Badlands.

From the Burning Hills Ampitheatre, the “Medora Musical” cast is perfecting each note and dance flip for the June 8 opening show. Coming into the musical for the first time are co-host Tim Drake and Burning Hills singer Nate Gilanyi — both Wisconsin natives.

Actor Tim Drake, pictured in his "Dusty" Drake costume, is the new co-host of the "Medora Musical" for the 2022 summer lineup.
Actor Tim Drake, pictured in his "Dusty" Drake costume, is the new co-host of the "Medora Musical" for the 2022 summer lineup. Though it may be his first year co-hosting the summer hit show, Drake is no stranger to Medora, North Dakota, as he performed in “Ring of Fire" at the Old Town Hall Theater last fall.
Contributed / Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation

Drake has spent much time in Medora, working with Director/Producer Curt Wollan for many years and seeing the musical since 1997. One day just as he was coming off the road from a tour, Drake got a call from Wollan asking if he’d step in as the new co-host. To his surprise, Drake was not expecting his summer plans to shift so quickly.

“He asked me if I wanted to do it. And at first, I was like, ‘Ah, no.’ And I was terrified because it’s a big deal,” Drake said. “Being the co-host of this show is a very daunting task. But now that I’ve gotten here (and) we had some rehearsals, we are going to have a blast. It’s really going to be a fun show. I’m putting myself at ease because our rehearsals are really going very well and I’m getting more confident as we go along. People are going to love the show. It’s really going to be fantastic.”

Originally from Burlington, Wisconsin, actor Nate Gilanyi, pictured in costume, will join the "Medora Musical" as a new Burning Hills singer for the 2022 summer lineup.
Originally from Burlington, Wisconsin, actor Nate Gilanyi, pictured in costume, will join the "Medora Musical" as a new Burning Hills singer for the 2022 summer lineup.
Contributed / Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation

Pre-pandemic, Gilanyi worked for a cruise ship alongside an alumni of the “Medora Musical,” who encouraged him to audition for the summer show in North Dakota.

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“I guess it took me five years to actually audition,” Gilanyi said, laughing. “But I finally auditioned this year and just lucked out. I was the one male that was selected.”

The running theme throughout this year’s show is how “Dusty” Drake steps in as the new co-host without much clue as to what he’s doing in Medora and why. It’s up to his fellow cast mates to help guide him throughout the production, while teaching him how wonderful the little ole cowboy town is.

“I am sort of taking over the show. I come in and nobody knows who I am or they’re trying to figure out what I’m doing. And so our other host, Annie, is kind enough to like me a little bit and she’s explaining to me all about Medora. So she’s giving me a history lesson about Medora along with the audience,” Drake said. “And we have a lot of fun comedy bits that we do together.”

Returning as co-host is Annie Freres, who has been an inspiration for Drake.

“She’s wonderful. We’re having a great time together because we don’t do a lot of all the dancing and stuff like that. So we get the time to sit back and talk, laugh and figure out what we’re going to do while all these fantastic dancers and singers are dancing around. I can’t believe it,” he said. “I know these rehearsals are hard and I’ve watched these shows for many years. But the rehearsal process that the Burning Hills singers go through with dancing all the time, these dances are really intricate. They do the bulk of the work. I feel like I’m stealing money; I’m sitting here watching all of them work their asses off and I’m like, ‘Oh, I got a couple of lines to read and do some bits.’ So they are really the stars of the show.”

The Burning Hills singers perform a song during a previous showing of the "Medora Musical."
The Burning Hills singers perform a song during a previous showing of the "Medora Musical."
Contributed / Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation

Gilanyi chuckled and admitted that the dance rehearsals have been a test of his physical strength, especially stepping into new territory with a clog number.

“... I think that was one of the hardest things and luckily, we did that right at the beginning so we had more time to be able to solidify and perfect it, if you will. It’s very fast too. So not only is it a style that is not always in my wheelhouse, but it’s also super very fast,” Gilanyi said, adding that this was the first time he’s stepped into clog shoes. “... They’re like tap shoes, but there’s two layers of metal taps. So it’s just a different feel under your feet. It’s very fun, but I’d say that’s probably been the most challenging — having to put the most focus into.”

With a much longer rehearsal process than typical productions, Gilanyi is hopeful for an entertaining summer.

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As someone who’s seen the musical for many decades, Drake said that everybody has their own Medora memories of the show — which started back in 1965.

“For me, it’s the cast. We have just such a wonderful cast here. Everybody’s so wonderful and welcoming, and we’re all having a great time together,” Drake said. “... It’s very exciting to be a part of it now and I know the crowds here are wonderful because I’ve seen the show a lot of times and audiences here just love the show and we’re going to do our very best to make it very memorable for them as well.”

The musical, which runs through Sept. 10, also features the Pitchfork Steak Fondue prior to showtime as well as entertaining acts — from comedians to acrobatics — in between sets. For more details and ticket/show information, visit medora.com/medoramusical .

The cast of the "Medora Musical" perform in a grand finale with fireworks during a previous showing.
The cast of the "Medora Musical" perform in a grand finale with fireworks during a previous showing.
Contributed / Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation

Jackie Jahfetson is a former reporter for The Dickinson Press.
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