There's no devil in Burnham's Dream: The White City, only music | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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There's no devil in Burnham's Dream: The White City, only music

Ragtime! Waltzes! World's Fair architecture!


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This world premiere musical by June Finfer (book and lyrics) and Elizabeth Doyle (music and lyrics) recounts the behind-the-scenes drama in the creation of Chicago's 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, arguably the most important cultural event in America in the decade leading up to the dawn of the 20th century. Presented by Finfer's company Lost and Found Productions, the show focuses on Daniel Burnham, who supervised the building of the famed "White City" in Jackson Park.

In Finfer's telling, Burnham was an obsessive manager whose sometimes abrasive personality was complemented by his gentler, more artistically inclined architectural partner, John Wellborn Root. The pair was in charge of designing and building the fair, until Root's untimely death from pneumonia in 1891 forced Burnham to commission other architects—including his rival, Louis Sullivan—to participate. Driven to bring his dream of a mammoth fair to life against huge odds—including Chicago's dangerously brutal winter weather—Finfer's Burnham also grows emotionally, becoming more aware of his great civic project's impact not just on the city but on its people as he butts heads with: the likes of philanthropist Bertha Palmer and civil rights journalist Ida B. Wells, who vigorously protests the fair's underrepresentation of African-American achievements.

The ten-person cast sings well to the accompaniment of an offstage chamber quartet, and Doyle's music evokes Gilded Age Chicago with waltzes and ragtime pieces as well as delicate art songs in the manner of Ned Rorem and Samuel Barber.   v

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