Chicago Music Fest Bum Rushes Paying Audience So It Can Prepare For Fundraiser Dinner

Ravinia, a century-old Chicago summer music festival, is getting hardcore about raising money. This year it sold tickets to a concert performance of songs by composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim, sung by Broadway veterans and played by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Sondheim is always a big deal for musical theater types, and the event seemed like a home run for both the fans and Ravinia–until the concert ended after 65 minutes with no encores, and the general admission audience was told to leave so that Ravinia could reward their core supporters with a gala dinner.

Offering exclusive perks to donors and supporters is nothing new, of course, but even the Chicago Tribune’s critic Chris Jones was surprised by the abruptly short performance, and by how rudely the paying audience was treated:

When you take away the self-congratulatory speechifying and a slightly delayed curtain, that made for about 65 minutes of show. There were no encores — just some embarrassed bows from the performers and awkward glances from the members of the CSO who clearly understood they’d just upset the people at the back. The show ended a good 15 minutes sooner than the sign at the door. I don’t recall ever seeing a show like this without an encore — or two, or three.


The issue here was that this was a benefit for the festival — and someone had decided that dinner should be served after the show for those 800 guests. If you were at the benefit, that might have been fine. Often such events feature brief entertainment. But Ravinia also sold most of the show-only seats to the general public — $125 pavilion tickets that were purchased by arts lovers out of their own pockets.

(Prices for the show ranged from general seating at $25 to the $125 pavilion tickets.)

Ravinia responded by saying, “Obviously we can’t start the precedent of giving a refund for a concert that happened, and that got a bad review.” Instead, they’re offering “buy one get one free” tickets for their upcoming concert performance of “Annie Get Your Gun.”

“Sondheim at Ravinia: Anger on the North Shore at truncated birthday celebration” [Chicago Tribune] (Thanks to Steve!)
“Ravinia responds to Sondheim outcry, offering ‘Get Your Gun’ tickets but no refund “ [Chicago Tribune]

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