All Aboard! Music-Kissed Pullman Porter Blues, Starring Cleavant Derricks, Steams Into DC's Arena Stage

By Kenneth Jones
and Adam Hetrick
November 23, 2012

Tony Award winner Cleavant Derricks and the company of the play-with-music Pullman Porter Blues — seen earlier this fall in Seattle — gather again Nov. 23 at Arena Stage in Washington, DC, for the first preview of the second leg of the co-production with Seattle Repertory Theatre.



Lisa Peterson, who helped guide Tony Award winner Denis O'Hare's An Iliad at Seattle Rep prior to its recent Off-Broadway run at the New York Workshop, directs the play that has been in development at Seattle Rep the past several years. The experience includes a live on-stage band and a dozen classic blues songs.

Pullman Porter Blues is a commission of Seattle Rep's New Play Program. It is the first of the organization's commissions to debut on the main stage (it played Seattle Sept. 27-Oct. 28). Its DC run, at Arena Stage's Mead Center for American Theater's Kreeger Theater, continues to Jan. 6, 2013.

According to director West, "The play is inspired by my late grandfather and his many tales of working on the postal trains as well as my first train ride as a young girl. I remember, quite vividly, being utterly enamored with the train's compulsively smiling Pullman porters. Now decades later I have the incredible opportunity through my play to illuminate the world behind the smiles of the free blacks working in one of the first occupations open to them after the Civil War."

Derricks (Dreamgirls, Brooklyn) leads a cast that also includes E. Faye Butler, Emily Chisholm, James Patrick Hill, Lamar Lofton, Felicia Loud, Larry Marshall, Warner Miller, Richard Ziman, musical director/arranger Jmichael and Seattle musical icon Chic Street Man.

Here's how Pullman Porter Blues is billed: "It's 1937, and three generations of porters are hard at work on the luxurious Panama Limited train. Midwest blues songs flavor their journey from Chicago to New Orleans as the porters confront dark secrets from their past and tough truths about their future together. This captivating coming of age story is woven with iconic blues music and features a live band."

The Pullman Porter Blues creative team also includes set designer Riccardo Hernandez, costume designer Constanza Romero, lighting and projection designer Alexander V. Nichols, sound designer Leon Rothenberg, movement staging consultant Sonia Dawkins, stage manager Amber Dickerson and assistant stage manager Mark Johnson.

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