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'That's the magic of Medora': Friends rally around holiday show to overcome illnesses

The "A Magical Medora Christmas" cast includes (from left) Chad Willow, Job Christenson, Emily Walter and Jared Mason. Special to Forum News Service1 / 4
Jared Mason and musical director Chad Willow jam on the piano during Magical Medora Christmas. Special to Forum News Service2 / 4
Bill Sorensen hosts "A Magical Medora Christmas." Special to Forum News Service3 / 4
Job Christenson, a Grand Forks native, is featured in "A Magical Medora Christmas." Special to Forum News Service4 / 4

FARGO — "A Magical Medora Christmas" is traveling four states to play 30 shows in 24 communities in one month's time, including two performances next week in Park Rapids (Dec. 13) and Detroit Lakes (Dec. 14). The road to get to these gigs for some of the performers, however, has been much longer.

Singer Emily Walter won a battle with breast cancer, her counterpart Job Christenson has bounced back from a career-threatening stroke and show host Bill Sorensen has recovered from a bout with throat cancer.

"So my little episodes are just part of the process as well," Sorensen says. "That's the magic of Medora. We're all doing well."

His positive outlook is in harmony with the holiday special.

The show is a pared-down version of the full-fledged "Medora Musical," the annual summer show that serves as a musical love letter to the Badlands and the small, western North Dakota community.

Walter and Christenson, a Grand Forks native, are joined by Jared Mason, a Medora alum, and musical director Chad Willow to play new and old holiday tunes and sketches.

"And me. I just fill in for costume changes," Sorensen says.

As usual, Sorensen is being humble as he actually hosts the variety show and performs magic and comedy between the music, just as he's done for the "Medora Musical" for years.

Sorensen, the former mayor of Bismarck, has performed at Medora for more than 40 years.

In 2016, just before he was to start rehearsing for the season, he was diagnosed with an aggressive throat cancer. He opted for a treatment that could damage his vocal cords and threatened to force him into an early retirement from the stage. Instead, his upbeat attitude had him back on the set the following year.

"Anyone who has gone through those things has a deeper appreciation for the gift of life. You appreciate the chance to do these things probably more than you did before," he says. "We all feel very blessed that we get to share some Christmas spirit with fans around the four-state area."

The gratitude comes out in song during "A Magical Medora Christmas." Walter sings "God Help the Outcast" and Christensen sings, "I Believe," which Sorensen calls one of the magic moments of the show.

"It gets me teary-eyed every time," Sorensen says.

Christensen was performing in a production of "Billy Elliot" six years ago when he suffered a massive stroke between afternoon and evening performances. The episode affected the right side of his body and his voice. He didn't return to the stage until two years ago when he joined the "Magical Medora Christmas" cast.

"For him to come back from where he was, now he sounds absolutely terrific. It's amazing to me," Sorensen says.

The performers continue to lift each other up on their own roads to recovery.

"That's what happens in Medora — you become, with a lot of people, lifelong friends. We hope we can present that," Sorensen says.

"Medora has been hugely important to all of us," he adds. "We love Medora. Medora has been life-changing for us. We think it's something everyone should experience, so we try and bring that feel with us as well. I find the place to be inspiring. It's where I go; it's my happy place."

If you go

What: "A Magical Medora Christmas" show

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14

Where: Detroit Lakes Middle School, 500 11th Ave., Detroit Lakes

Info: Tickets are $30. The 2018 tour also includes several other stops throughout North Dakota and Minnesota; visit www.medora.com for info.