August 1, 2008

A Western Adventure

By Paulette Tobin, Grand Forks Herald, N.D.

Aug. 1--By Paulette Tobin

Herald Staff Writer

The Medora Musical" packs a lot of razzle dazzle into its nightly high-energy show, with fireworks, more than two dozen singers and dancers and even live horses and a re-enactment of Teddy Roosevelt's historic charge up San Juan hill.

Still, when Job Christenson lifts his voice to sing the inspirational Josh Groban song "You Raise Me Up," a hush falls over the audience sitting under the star-filled North Dakota Badlands sky.

"Even the babies stop crying," Amphitheatre Manager Kinley Slauter said.

Christenson, Grand Forks, a featured performer in "The Medora Musical," this week marked his 60th performance of the summer at the Burning Hills Amphitheatre in Medora.

100 shows

As of Wednesday morning, it was 60 shows down and 40 to go. By Sept. 6, Christenson will have performed on Medora's outdoor stage 100 times, every night without a break since Memorial Day weekend. How does he do it?

"Lots of sleep," Christenson said in a telephone interview. "I sleep and work out, and I'm pretty low-key during the day, so we can give our entire selves to the show." Workouts? When he sings and dances on stage every night? Yes. They're important for the body and soul, he said.

Christenson, artistic director of the North Dakota Ballet Company and Apprentice School and one of the producers of Crimson Creek Players of Grand Forks, is well known as a performer in Grand Forks. After graduating from Central High School, he trained in musical theater at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and then danced and performed all over the world and in Broadway and national tours with "Cats,""Ragtime" and many other shows.

Since returning to Grand Forks, he's directed and choreographed shows for Central and Red River high schools and Crimson Creek Players in Grand Forks, Frost Fire Theatre at Walhalla, N.D., Sleepy Hollow Summer Theatre at Bismarck and more. He's worked with the theater department at UND, performed extensively and recorded two musical CDs.

In January 2007, the North Valley Arts Council named him Artist of the Year for his role in the local arts community.

Now, he's playing a city slicker headed West to find his fortune who accidentally gets off the train at Medora and finds his cell phone and Bluetooth don't work out there.

It's an experience that's been different and unexpected in several ways, he said. And not just because he occasionally swallows a bug while singing on Medora's brightly lit outdoor stage.

"This is a huge operation with lots of people working on it," Christenson said. "Even talking about Broadway, this is a little bigger than that. There are buildings that move on a track. There are 30 people backstage and horses. It's huge, what happens in this one two-hour show. We have some wonderfully talented people. I work with schools and communities and that's fun, too, but it's nice to be part of something that's so professional and so high quality."

The show brought at least one new challenge to this longtime dancer: learning to clog.

"I'm a tapper from years back, and I love tapping but I've never clogged," Christenson said. "This year, I learned how to clog. That was really fun."

Curt Wollan of Troupe America, a theatrical production company in Minneapolis that's been associated with "The Medora Musical" since 1992, said Christenson has brought a lot of talent to the show.

"He's a good dancer and singer, and he's a good person, a real unifier for the rest of the cast," said Wollan, the show's producer and director. "He's real supportive of everybody in the show and a joy to work with."

Another Grand Forks resident in the show's cast, Ellery Tofte, recently left "The Medora Musical" because of painful shin splints and other leg issues, Wollan said. She's been replaced by Allison Mickelson (formerly Allison Brooks) of Pierre, S.D., who lived in Grand Forks for a time and performed in many shows here, including Crimson's Creek's "Chicago" in 2006.

"The Medora Musical" has a different cast each year, and its story varies some, but there are always common themes, including God, country and the value of the individual.

"It's a Western extravaganza," Christenson said. "It has the music and the dancing and singing and a bit of a plot, but not much of one. But it's trying to instill pride in North Dakota and in our country, where even a cowboy can be president."

The message that every person can make a difference is important for adults and young people, especially in an election year, he said.

Reach Tobin at (701) 780-1134; (800) 477-6572, ext. 134; or send e-mail to [email protected]


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