MEDORA — Bismarck native Taylor Leet grew up attending the Medora Musical every summer, dreaming about what it would be like to be up on that stage.
This year, Leet is one of six North Dakota natives in the musical cast and band, the largest number in recent years.
“I never thought just because I’m a North Dakotan I’d be in it,” Leet said. “I knew that people came from all over and I knew that competition was steep and these people were really, really good.”
Four of the 12 Burning Hills Singers in this year’s musical are North Dakota natives: Leet, Alyssa Scott of Fargo, Misti Koop of Grand Forks and Damon Fichter of Dickinson.
Koop, in her fifth year in the cast, was the only North Dakotan on stage when she joined in 2012.
“It’s fun to have new North Dakotans with us,” Koop said.
In addition to the singers, former Bismarck mayor and longtime Medora performer Bill Sorensen is back co-hosting the musical this year.
“I’m loving everything about it,” said Sorensen, a fixture in Medora for more than 40 years. “It’s different when you’re from here because you see anybody you’ve ever known.”
Plus, Bismarck native Zach Schmidt is the drummer in the Coal Diggers Band. Schmidt, who also played keyboard for the musical in 2013, said it’s great to see so many North Dakota natives this year.
“It shows off our proud history and the talent that we have in North Dakota,” Schmidt said.
More than 1,000 people audition for the Medora Musical each year regionally and nationally, with cast members coming from around the country.
“The fact that there are so many North Dakotans in the show, it makes me even more proud to be where I’m from,” Leet said. “When they introduce everybody in the cast, hearing applause for the Bismarck or North Dakota people, it’s always so fun.”
Also returning to the cast this year is Klayton Hinshaw, a native of Fort Wayne, Ind., a recent graduate of Dickinson State University who continues to live in Dickinson.
Because many Medora alumni have gone on to have successful solo and performing careers, the North Dakota musical has become a resume builder, Sorensen said.
For Scott, who had been working as a musician in the Twin Cities, the musical is a chance to challenge herself in new ways before heading to Nashville in the fall.
“The musical is something very different for me,” said Scott, who fronts the country band Alyssa Scott and the Hometown Heroes. “I knew it was going to push me in different ways that I haven’t been pushed.”
For Leet, the Medora performances give her a chance to have music as her primary focus. She graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a vocal performance degree in 2013, but for the past few years was only able to pursue music part-time.
“I was looking for an opportunity where I could be submerged fully, all day, in music somehow,” said Leet, who moved back to North Dakota from Chicago this spring.
The local cast members draw crowds from their hometowns, with Leet expecting her family to bring several groups of extended family.
Sorensen jokes that North Dakota residents come to see him for a different reason.
“They come to watch these guys; they come to give me a bad time,” Sorensen said.
The musical runs nightly at 7:30 Mountain time through Sept. 9.
Many of the musicians also perform for free from Medora’s Town Square on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons. For more information, call 800-MEDORA-1 or visit medora.com.