'Pullman Porter Blues' Rolls into Chicago's Goodman Theatre

August 28, 2013 | by Elle Eichinger | Pursuits


Chicago playwright Cheryl L. West works with the cast in rehearsals for “Pullman Porter Blues.” 

The Goodman Theatre is still prepping for its next musical, “Pullman Porter Blues,” opening September 14, but the inherently Chicagoan story already has tickets selling. Led by the theater’s resident director Chuck Smith and written by legendary Chicago playwright Cheryl L. West, the piece is set in a Pullman train car on its journey from Chicago to New Orleans during the 1937 championship bout between boxers Joe Louis and James Braddock.

Pullman train cars had already become legendary—created in a company town on the south side of Chicago, they were the chicest way to travel—but less known are the lives of its porters, a population of primarily black men looking for opportunity and the chance to travel. “Pullman Porter Blues” follows the fictional story of the Sykes family—Sylvester, Monroe, and Cephas—three generations of porters on the rail line. On their way to the Big Easy, the men confront their past and look ahead to their futures.

Rather than have music float up from the orchestra pit below stage, “Pullman Porter Blues” puts the band right onstage, a creative decision that befits the lively blues style of the music. Toe-tapping tunes like “Sweet Home Chicago” comprise the spirited repertoire, and say as much about the time period and the characters’ lives as the dialog does.

“Pullman Porter Blues” opens on September 14 and runs through October 20. Tickets ($25-86) are available at goodmantheatre.org/pullman. Albert Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., 312-443-3800

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