MEDORA (AP) - Home to the Medora Musical, the Burning Hills Amphitheatre has seen significant changes over the years. Yet the facility remains standing tall on the western horizon of this community as it marked its 50th anniversary.
The amphitheatre, built in 1958, was created in response to a movement to help celebrate Theodore Roosevelt's 100th birthday. The original show that graced the stages of the amphitheatre was "Old Four-Eyes," a tribute to Theodore Roosevelt and his time in the Badlands.
"Volunteers, Home on the Range for boys and the original cast helped to build the amphitheatre in 1958," said Kinley Slauter, current amphitheatre manager. "At that time they had wooden benches, a small stage and vegetation around the stage. I've heard those benches were pretty uncomfortable."
The opening season of Old Four-Eyes proved extremely successful, with 30 of the 33 performances selling out, Slauter said. Although enjoying a successful first season, attendance faltered in the following seasons.
"Since a lot of the audience was local and no changes to the show were made, after five years the popularity dwindled," Slauter said. "They changed the script a little and changed the title, but the show closed in 1964."
The late Harold Schafer, president of the Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park and Badlands Association, purchased the Burning Hills Amphitheatre. He contacted Al Sheehan Productions in Minneapolis to arrange an outdoor musical variety show, then called "Teddy Roosevelt Rides Again-A Western Musical," which later became known as the Medora Musical.
"He made some changes by expanding the stage, and the seating area," Slauter said. "Accessibility was a challenge for the amphitheatre."
The new and improved amphitheatre and show opened July 1, 1965.
After the initial changes, more large-scale reconstruction took place in 1990, which made access to the amphitheatre easier. Phase I of the amphitheatre renovation included an escalator, which currently takes visitors down the seven stories to the amphitheatre seating, as well as other additions.
"All the dirt floors were replaced," Slauter said. "The stairways were improved, new seating was put in, installed was a much improved lights and sound system, as well as audience-level restrooms and shopping."
More reconstruction then took place the following fall and included the complete demolition of the original theater.
Although no more major renovations have taken place or are planned, Slauter said the amphitheatre needs constant upkeep to keep it running.
"There are always improvements that can be made, which is certainly the case with this project, as it takes quite a bit of wear and tear," Slauter said. "There is always constant painting and we just replaced the lighting towers. Wind will do some damage when it's blowing."
Throughout the upgrades and complete renovations, people keep coming to see the musical, which is new every year but follows the same format.
"The show itself is magic," Slauter said. "But the amphitheatre gives as much to the show as the show itself. It's such an incredible view too, and definitely one of a kind."