Pullman! There is a name you don’t hear anymore. The Pullman company, located on the very south side of Chicago ( near Roseland) was the company that changed the railroad- the Pullman car was the “sleeping car” on the train and allowed travelers a certain royalty that was aided by the Pullman Porters, African American men who have been trained to exceed the expectations of the travelers. The time of this play, written by Cheryl L. West , is 1937 and the train , The Panama Limited, is pulling out of Chicago on its way to New Orleans. It is the night that young Joe Louis will take on James Braddock for the Heavyweight Championship of The World ( prize fighters for those of you not into the sporting world history). It is also a time where unions were taking hold and the “porters” were looking at forming a brotherhood so that they would have more rights. 1937 was a time of the “blues” when it came to music and this production, smoothly directed by veteran Chuck Smith, who truly understands the music, the city and the times, to create a wonderful theatrical experience and history lesson.
The set(Ricardo Hernandez) is what appears to be an actual train on stage with walls that move to open up the club car, the suites and the service areas. Wow! If you have evern been on a train, seeing what Hernandez has created will bring back some of the glory days of travel. When we were not always in a rush and people dressed up in their finery. In “Blues” we learn about the times and the people, in particular the men who served- in fact, three generations of the Poerters that worked the line; The elder, Monroe ( a top notch performance by Larry Marshall who is amazing), his son Sylvester ( deftly handled by Cleavant Derricks) and his grandson ,Cephas (a powerful performance by Tosin Morohunfola) who is on his first trip after dropping out of medical School.
This is a sterling cast of song and dance men and the lady that connets them all, Sister Juba ( E. Faye Butler in a role that was made for her and one that should garner her a Jeff nomination, for sure). The balance of the cast , headed by the always reliable Francis Guinan as the White conductor who feels the pain of the Negore’s changing world and the effect it will have on him, Claire Kander ansLutie, the poor white trash that sneaks aboard the train and is aided by Cephas and Juba ( quite the master of the harmonica as well), Senuwell L. Smith,Chic Street Man, Anderson Edwards and JMichael who is also the musical director.
This is a play that I suggest you find a way to get to- the music is great, the laughs are plentiful but the story of relationship and how the generations can unite as one is one that will bring a tear to your eye. We see in this taut story that while a parent may want his child to do more, often it is a choice that we need to allow our children to make. t is also a story about sacrifices that one generation makes for the other.
The musical numbers, some familiar and some truly older than the audience are a bright way of moving the story along- “See See Rider”,, “Swett Home Chicago”, “Joe Louis Blues”, “Hop Scop Blues”, “Touble in Mind” and many others brings the Blues to where it comes from, Chicago. This is a story that relates to our city, our people and our history and the Goodman has put it all together to perfection. Costumes (Brigit Rattenborg Wise), lighting (Robert Christen) Sound ( Ray Nardelli and Joshua Horvath), projections ( as always, very special by Mike Tutaj), fight choreography ( Nick Sandys) and stage managed by Briana J. Fahey.
“Pullman Porter Blues” will continue on the stage of The Albert through October 2oth with performances as follows:
Tuesday, October 15th at 7:30 p.m.
Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m.
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m.
Sundays at 2 and 7:30 p.m. (No evenings on 10/13 and 10/20)
Tickets range from $25-$75 and can be purchased at the box office located at 170 N. Dearborn Street, by phone at 312-443-3800 or online at www.GoodmanTheatre.org/Pullman where you can also see some of the special activities/events associated with this brilliant productions.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to review round-u and click at “Pullman Porter Blues”