Review: “Burnham’s Dream: The White City” at Lost and Found Productions

Review: “Burnham’s Dream: The White City” at Lost and Found Productions

(left to right) Laura Degrenia and Pavi Proczko. Photo by Evan Hanover.

By Alyssa Dyksterhouse

Whether Chicagoans are aware of it or not Daniel Burnham impacts our lives daily.

Our iconic Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier. Thank Daniel Burnham.

No trucks on Lakeshore Drive. Thank Daniel Burnham.

Your Uber getting lost on Lower Wacker. Well, thank Daniel Burnham.

He famously said, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency.”

Okay, a brief history. The Great Chicago Fire began on the evening of October 8, 1871. After which leaders began developing a world-class city. Did you know we are the home of the first skyscraper? Undeniably, the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition provided a pivotal point in Chicago’s rebuilding and rebranding.

Lost and Found Productions’ World Premiere Musical “Burnham’s Dream: The White City” (Book/Lyrics by June Finfer and Music/Lyrics by Elizabeth Doyle) relays the provocations, politics, and personalities Burnham faced while designing said fair which ultimately inspired him to be a city planner. Did you know we still use his Plan for Chicago today?

Though the premise, and much of the plot, is a point of historical fact, this musical is much more than a predictable period piece. Like a concrete pre-cast panel, I found myself riveted while wondering, “How does the White City get complete?” Moreover, Finfer and Doyle poetically penned a piquant love letter to The City That Works.

The lights rise to “We Gotta Get It” as the ensemble eagerly waits to find out which metropolis will be awarded the fair. For an opening number, it lacks enthusiasm and energy. I wanted Art Deco and got an International Style Steel Box. I wonder if Erik Wagner embraced the Meis van der Rohe “less is more” philosophy while directing the big production numbers.

However, other, more intimate, songs compensated. Notably, “We are a Team”—where we witness the powerful partnership between Burnham (Pavi Proczko) and John Root (Sam Massey)—foments a foundation of curiosity in these complex characters. Indeed, the relationships and interaction provide the load bearing wall.

In “Never Marry and Architect”—a song which employs structural engineering terms as sexual innuendo—Margaret Burnham (Laura Degrenia) evokes empathy as she ludicrously laments her ambitious and mostly absent husband.

In an effort to “out Eiffel Eiffel”—that tower was built for the 1889 World’s Fair—the planners introduced the Ferris Wheel. Nowadays, no waterfront is complete without an “axle of steel” but Chicago had one first. My favorite moment was “Like a Bicycle Wheel” when Burnham and team tried to describe this whacky newfangled carnival ride.

I assert Burnham would be pleased with the design elements. Jose Manuel Diaz-Soto’s Miesian set conjures images of a building’s steel framed skeleton transporting us from construction sites, drafting rooms and, mansions while providing a backdrop for Joseph Burke’s projections of the Beaux Arts buildings which culminate in a panoramic of The White City.

“Burnham’s Dream: The White City” is like Navy Pier, it has some façade issues; yet, the structure is solid and overall worth seeing. In fact, as a tour guide, I will recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about Chicago history or Burnham.

Now can we work on Marina City Towers! The Musical?

About author

Alyssa Dyksterhouse

With a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dramaturgy/Dramatic Criticism, Alyssa Dyksterhouse has over 20 years of professional theater experience. She recently returned from the living in the Pacific Northwest where she wrote about arts and culture for Seattle Weekly and Seattle Gay Scene.