Entertainment / Opinion

Heartland Show Marvel Outshines “Woke” Entertainment

AMAC Exclusive by David P. Deavel

The entertainment story of our times is that sports and showbiz execs are slowly starting to learn that to go woke quite often means going broke. Making the game or the show a vehicle for progressive politics turns off any audience but true believers. A focus on our common life as a country and an appreciation for our history means success. That thought never seemed truer when I took in a marvel called The Medora Musical on my summer vacation, a live patriotic extravaganza performing nightly against the scenic backdrop of North Dakota’s Badlands. The execs in New York and L.A. could learn a thing or three about what still sells from tiny Medora, as a brief round-up of the follies of the last six months shows.

After Major League Baseball moved the planned 2021 All-Star game from Atlanta to Denver because of voting reform bills in Georgia that the league claimed, along with Democratic politicians and their media adjuncts, were “voter suppression,” the summer fixture achieved its second-lowest ratings ever with only 8.24 million viewers tuning in—this despite the Japanese hitting-and-pitching sensation Shohei Ohtani’s presence. The uber-woke NBA similarly had a disastrous finals series, ending up with slightly better numbers than 2020 because of a strong final game. But that masked the fact that the first few games often did not reach 10 million viewers.

In crossing over to non-sports entertainment, we can first note that left-wing basketball star LeBron James’s movie Space Jam bombed big-time at the box office. Perhaps it would have been different had King James followed Michael Jordan, the original blockbuster Space Jam star, in refraining from jamming his own liberal politics on his fans because “Republicans buy sneakers.” (Jordan later said that line was a joke, but it’s not clear he didn’t mean it.) Netflix, whose content has been trending from progressive politics to the lurid semi-child-pornographic Cuties, lost nearly a half-million American subscribers in the second quarter of 2021, according to a report in Breitbart. In fact, all of the entertainment industry is suffering from its own insufferable need to curse and offend the deplorables at every turn. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the four major awards shows lost a collective 35 million viewers in 2021. The Oscars had their lowest television audience in history, but they were not alone. Almost all the awards shows tanked this year.

I wouldn’t know about that last bit because—like most of the country!—I haven’t been watching these shows for years. I don’t look to actors and athletes for political views.

But I still like to be entertained. So when a friend said that if I were passing through North Dakota this summer I had to see The Medora Musical, I jumped at the chance. The musical both tells the history of a place that is part of American history and it is part of that history.

At the far western side of North Dakota, the town of Medora (population: 112) was established by the Marquis of Dorés in 1883 and named after his wife, Medora von Hoffman. The French aristocrat set up the town and a meatpacking plant in order to ship meat to Chicago via the Northern Pacific Railway. It gained its fame, however, from an American president. A young Teddy Roosevelt, who had visited the Badlands in 1883 to hunt bison, returned the next year in the wake of the deaths of his wife and mother on the same day. He set up a ranch called Elkhorn just north of Medora and kept it up for four years until the brutal winter of 1886-87 killed his cattle and he returned to New York.

TR had not initially impressed the cowboys and ranchers of the west nor did he always please them, but due to his attempt to learn their ways and his advocacy for them and for sensible policies in the Dakota Territory, he certainly earned the respect of the region. When he returned as President Roosevelt on a whistle-stop tour in 1903, this respect had grown. He recalled that “the entire population of the Badlands down to the smallest baby had gathered to meet me… They all felt I was their man, their old friend; and even if they had been hostile to me in the old days when we were divided by the sinister bickering and jealousies and hatreds of all frontier communities, they now firmly believed they had always been my staunch friends. . . .” And indeed, that year the Medora town hotel changed its name to the Rough Riders Hotel.

Fifty years later, enter Harold Schafer (1912-2001). The president of the Gold Seal Company, which gave us Mr. Bubble, Glass Wax, and a number of other popular products, the North Dakota native wanted to preserve the history of the old West and TR. His first order of business was to take over and renovate the nearly-ruined Rough Riders Hotel in 1962, whose previous owners had won it in a card game. Next, he took over the Burning Hills Amphitheater, built in 1958 for the purpose of presenting a stage play about Roosevelt called Old Four Eyes. After that show had run for five seasons, it had been replaced by a new show called Teddy Roosevelt’s Life in North Dakota. Schafer decided that this show, a dud, needed to be replaced and so contacted Sheehan Productions of Minneapolis to develop a new show, with the demands that it be kid-friendly, have Teddy Roosevelt’s name appear in the title, and include a big patriotic ending.

The result, an upbeat variety show with Vaudevillian elements, debuted on July 1, 1965, and was titled Teddy Roosevelt Rides Again: A Medora Musical. Schafer apparently relented on the name demand, for the show was soon known simply as the The Medora Musical. On the other two demands, however, there are no exceptions. The show, eventually taken over by The Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation founded by Schafer in 1986, did and continues to cast top-notch performers for its house band, The Coal Diggers, and its troupe of singer-dancers, the Burning Hills Singers.

Proof of that might be that two of that first 1965 season’s cast members went on to fame elsewhere. Michon Peacock went on to appear in the original Chicago musical and was involved in the development of A Chorus Line. David Solberg, known professionally as David Soul, went on to appear in Clint Eastwood’s Magnum Force and, most famously, was Detective Ken “Hutch” Hutchinson on the cop show Starsky and Hutch. In a slightly different genre, another early singer named Tom Netherton was scooped up by another North Dakota entertainer and went on to appear in 151 episodes of The Lawrence Welk Show. And Schafer’s son, Ed, took over stuntman duties in 1967 after the producers decided Hollywood stuntmen were too expensive. Though his showbiz career was short, he later became governor of North Dakota and eventually U. S. Secretary of Agriculture.

When we saw the show last week, we were a bit worried that the cloudy-but-no-rain weather forecast might not have been so accurate. The dark clouds around show time at 7:30 PM were incredibly beautiful as we sat in the outdoor theater perched high on the side of Burning Gulch, but they did not portend a full ticket’s worth of show. God and Teddy Roosevelt must have been watching out for us, however, because though it sprinkled off-and-on, the show did—as it must—go on.

After meeting the band, the first act began with what the program titled “Our National Anthem.” I noticed a lot of members of the audience saluting while most of the rest had their hands over their hearts. Those saluting veterans were recognized during the show by the hosts, “Cowboy” Chet Wollan and “Calamity” Annie Freres. With plenty of cornpone humor, covers of country and pop songs and great dancing from the Burning Hills Singers, and a lot of North Dakota pride, the act ended with “The Story of Medora and the Couples Who Created Her”—focusing on the Marquis and Medora, TR, and finally Harold Schafer and his wife Sheila, a former theater student who had been involved with her husband from the beginning of the show.

The center of the second act is a featured touring performer. Though this summer had included a magician, juggler, and comedian, we were happy to have seen the first night of The Chicago Boyz, a touring acrobatic team whose youngest performer that night was an eleven-year-old. My five-year-old daughter thought the “back flips” were the highlight of the show. The older kids preferred the penultimate number: “Dare Greatly!”—a musical presentation of TR’s Charge of San Juan Hill set to “The Greatest Show” from the 2017 movie musical The Greatest Showman.  This was indicative of what’s great about The Medora Musical. It draws on the best music of older times and new, showing that patriotism isn’t a thing of the past.

Nor does it have to be staid. “I Was Born Free—Let Freedom Ring!” was the final number and featured horseback riders with flags and a fireworks display. While the ratings for woke entertainment are going out with a whimper, The Medora Musical shows that love of our country and its history, and an attention to what unites us as Americans, makes for a show that doesn’t go out—but does conclude with a bang.

David P. Deavel is editor of Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, co-director of the Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law, and Public Policy, and a visiting professor at the University of St. Thomas (MN). He is the co-host of the Deep Down Things podcast.

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Kyle Buy you some guns,and learn how to shoot
1 year ago

And these big wigs just cant understand why they loose viwers. Wer want to watch a ball game with no politacical B>S> We carte less what some player or actor thinks of our political choise.

1 year ago

Perhaps the most disgusting “act” of all is done by the “movie stars” who make millions by performing in movies in which the hero defends himself with a firearm then, in “real life” says that no one needs a gun. (hint: Liam Neeson et al.). While I’m proud to be part Irish, I don’t need an Irishman (OK naturalized American – probably to beat the taxes) telling me that our Constitution is wrong. Recent actions by “The Rock” and John Cena illustrate that these are people who are capable of following a script (written by people much more intelligent than they) but fail when left on their own…much like our current president.

1 year ago

Would love to see it. Branson Mo has Sight and Sound Theatre productions and they produce the most wonderful Bible stories ever. It is an amazing event….this year until December…they will be showing “Jesus”….musical theatre….I have seen Noah, Ruth, Sampson, Moses, Joseph, Jonah and now Jesus. They perform this for two years and then it is replaced with a new one for the next two years. Their performances are recorded and DVRs are available. It is real entertainment.

1 year ago

Growing up in ND, the Medora Musical was always a “must”, Thank you for giving it the kudos it deserves. For anyone traveling anywhere through the Midwest, the musical is definitely worth going out of your way to see.

1 year ago

Definitely not finding any decent American programing to watch. Haven’t watched sports programs the last 25 years. Streaming services such NETFLX, HULU, PARAMOUNT, DISCOVERY, etc., showing too much SEX and Violence as well as their commercials being sex and the homosexual agendas. Definitely will pay more for no commercials when possible.

Deborah Gabelton
1 year ago
Reply to  Max

You are too right sir. My husband and I were watching a program that my granddaughter had suggested (our first mistake, probably! She is “woke”) — it was interesting for a while, but then suddenly there was a scene where two women began kissing each other and taking their clothes off and FONDLING each other’s br**sts! We sat there in shock for a few minutes until I finally grabbed the remote and turned it off. After that my husband said he had to go take a nap in the guest room for about 20 minutes. When he was done we watched something on Hallmark.

Deborah Gabelton
1 year ago

(For those who want to avoid this, the show is called “Gypsy” on Netflix and apparently it features quite a bit of this sort of thing! Avoid!)

1 year ago

Thanks, we do preview everything to keep our grandchildren from viewing such inappropriate media, just wish our grown children would do the same.

Jerry Gill
1 year ago

You are so right, but unfortunately, even Hallmark Channel has been sullied with leftist trademark agenda storylines. Try Pureflix.

Deborah Gabelton
1 year ago
Reply to  Jerry Gill

Oh, I wish I had heard this advice sooner! You are right! The other day my husband and I were watching a program on Hallmark called “The Good Witch,” we thought we would enjoy it because we are fans of Wizard of Oz. Little did we know that there would be a scene of two women kissing! Once again my husband got so rattled that he had to go take a nap in the guest room for a little while. Thank you for the suggestion of PureFlix. We will check it out

1 year ago

Hollywood is a joke. Being an actor/actress TODAY is a cop-out. There is not ONE of those boobs that can match the great actors of the 40’s. I wouldn’t spend a dime to go to movies today. Tired of the sex and the violence. Hollywood should go down with the Democrats!

1 year ago
Reply to  Karen

A BAD joke. And what is with Hollywood’s love affair with the F word? A villain would seem so much more sinister (and a hero more righteous) if script writers would use cleaner language. Just saying.

1 year ago

Haven’t been to a movie in 30 years. Haven’t watched any sports in 6 years. And, don’t intend to in the future. I have had it long ago with sexually perverted and anti-American jerks doing nothing and getting millions for it.

J. Farley
1 year ago

I do not watch any sports others than I do watch Baseball, but, I DID NOT WATCH THE ALL STAR GAME, like wise with movies, any the these actors that speak out against American values, and speak out on subjects they know nothing about, I WILL NOT WATCH ANY OF THE CRAP THEY PUT OUT. We had hero’s during the 2nd world war, many from Hollywood fought in the war or in other ways to help America win. Now we have a bunch of now talent, spoiled children, that only give us crap full of SEX AND VIOLANCE, and little else. I have saved a lot of money over the last 20 years by not buying over priced movie tickets. I would rather watch reruns of the 50s and 60s then any of the junk made today. If we quit spending money on them they will wither like unpicked fruit on the tree.

Lauren R MacArthur
1 year ago

Interesting article! Enjoyed it. However, Medora may do better with more Theodore Roosevelt historical moments in their shows…IF they do NOT call him “Teddy.” He did NOT like to be called “Teddy.”

1 year ago

Oh well, it is CA after all. We can’t exactly expect any intelligence coming out of there.

1 year ago
Reply to  Barb

Not all of us in CA are idiots. Which is why we are recalling the POS Nazi that elected himself as governor. He is perfect example of why ‘ballot harvesting’ should be illegal in all 50 states.

1 year ago
Reply to  Sharon

agreed 100% Just because the gov and left are idiots doesn’t mean we all are idiots… we are frustrated as H***!!

Nobody’s Business
1 year ago

Yep any one that’s in the general area needs to see the show and enjoy the Fondue steak feed. Great place to visit and have fun and enjoy the western culture,and history, been there 4 times and plan on going again!

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