Burnham’s Dream: The White City

Burnham’s Dream: The White City

Burnham’s Dream: The White City tells the story of Daniel Burnham’s efforts in creating the World’s Columbian Exposition, more commonly known as the world’s fair,  in Chicago in 1893.

Watching this musical resembles the feeling of watching an episode of Chicago P.D. It’s exciting to see a show that takes place where you live. The show makes references to the Palmer House, State Street, and other Chicago landmarks. Writer June Finfer tells a story that many Chicago residents don’t know, despite living in the very city these events took place. I enjoyed the opportunity to learn real history and events in an entertaining way. 

The cast delivered an enthusiastic performance that made them fun to watch. Each ensemble member felt truly happy to be on stage telling this story. Standout performances include Genevieve Thiers who plays the role of Bertha Palmer. Theirs had a stand-out voice and delivered much of the shows with comedic elements. Her presence on stage was one unrivaled.

The voice that stood out among the rest Arielle Leverette. Leverette played Ida Wells, who pushed for the inclusion of African Americans in the world’s fair. Her belting notes in Sweet Land of Liberty Reprise left me with goosebumps.

While I enjoyed the history this musical told and the enthusiastic cast, I found the music to be lacking. In an industry where upbeat anthems with witty lyrics are the norm, the slower lyrics of Burnham’s dream left something to be desired. The music narrates the story in a way that would produce the same effect as simple dialogue. The opening number was a lackluster beginning to the show and the finale was underwhelming. There were such talented voices among the cast, yet they were unable to really shine with what they were given. The musical elements nearly took away from the story being told.

Among this overall story of Burnham’s Dream, were subplots such as issues with his wife and worker protests. Unfortunately, these subplots either dissolved quickly or just completely disappeared.  Burnham and his wife displayed problems throughout the play but reconnected abruptly without any rhyme or reason. It was mentioned that workers were protesting conditions and quitting and then just one song later the fair was suddenly completely built.    

If you’re a die-hard musical fan, this may not be the show for you. If you are interested in learning history in a new and different way, despite the underwhelming musical elements, and are looking to be entertained, I would recommend this show.

Burnhams Dream: The White City is playing at the Theater Wit on 1229 W Belmont Ave in Chicago. It will run through July 1st. Tickets are available at or by calling 773-975-8150.

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