“SWEET HOME CHICAGO!” CASTING SET FOR THE CHICAGO PREMIERE OF PULLMAN PORTER BLUES BY CHERYL L. WEST, DIRECTED BY CHUCK SMITH (SEP 14 – OCT 20)
***LARRY MARSHALL, CLEAVANT DERRICKS, E. FAYE BUTLER, FRANCIS GUINAN AND TOSIN MOROHUNFOLA AMONG THE BROADWAY LEGENDS, CHICAGO FAVORITES AND NEWCOMERS ABOARD BLUES-INFUSED JOURNEY***
Tickets are selling fast for Goodman Theatre Resident Director Chuck Smith’s Chicago premiere production of Cheryl L. West’s Pullman Porter Blues—a 2013 Helen Hayes/Charles MacArthur Award nominee for Outstanding New Play/Musical. This blues-infused “glorious ride” (DCist) follows three generations of African American Pullman porters in the 1930s—an era that no longer enslaves them, but still exploits them—in an updated production especially for the city of Pullman’s origin.
Tony Award winner Cleavant Derricks (Broadway’s original James “Thunder” Early in Dreamgirls) portrays Sylvester Sykes, a second-generation railway porter, union organizer and father. Tony Award nominee Larry Marshall (Sportin’ Life in Broadway’s Porgy and Bess) portrays Monroe Sykes, the family patriarch grateful for the opportunities given to him by the Pullman company. Newcomer Tosin Morohunfola portrays Cephas, the youngest Sykes son and med-school hopeful with an itch for adventure. Chicago stage favorite E. Faye Butler portrays Sister Juba “with infectious spirit and adroit comedic timing” (Variety), Francis Guinan (August: Osage County) portrays Tex, the conniving white train conductor, and Claire Kander makes her Goodman Theatre debut in the role of Lutie, a stowaway. The musicians aboard the train include Jmichael Davis (Keys) on piano, Anderson Edwards (Shorty) on bass, Chic Street Man (Professor Slick) on guitar and Senuwell Smith (Twist) on drums.
Pullman Porter Blues runs September 14 – October 20 in the Albert Theatre (opening night is Tuesday, September 24). Tickets ($25 - $86; subject to change) go on sale to the general public Friday, August 9 and are available at GoodmanTheatre.org/Pullman, by phone at 312.443.3800 or at the box office (170 North Dearborn). Abbott Fund and Allstate are Corporate Sponsor Partners. ComEd is the Official Lighting Sponsor.
“I remember being enamored with the smiling Pullman porters on my first train ride. Little did I know about the horrific working conditions they faced; and yet they persevered to become the first organized black labor union, a feat that cost many of them their jobs and their lives,” said playwright Cheryl L. West. “I have the incredible opportunity to bring this play to Chicago, my hometown, where so many Pullman porters lived. With the Sykes men as guides, audiences are invited to both explore the dark world behind the porters’ smiles and to recapture that initial fascination with a long train journey.”
“In Chicago, the Blues and Pullman go hand-in-hand. Pullman Porters were the town criers of the African American community, spreading news all over the country. They were treated with respect by everyone in the black community,” said director Chuck Smith, who celebrates 20 years at the Goodman with this production. “Cheryl pairs a rich and sometimes tragic story with Blues music, which is arguably as legendary as the Pullman Porters themselves.”
“The Blues help you say what you feel and feel what you can’t say.” It’s June of 1937, and the Panama Limited Pullman Train is speeding from Chicago to New Orleans on the night of the Joe Louis/James Braddock world heavyweight championship—a watershed moment. Three generations of African American train porters wrestle with ghosts of the past and dreams for the future as they eagerly await word of the Brown Bomber’s victory. Set to timeless Blues tunes performed by a live, on-stage band, and hot on the heels of runs at Seattle Repertory Theatre and Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage, Pullman Porter Blues is a spirited, music-infused ride audiences won’t soon forget.
The design team includes Robert Christen (lights), Riccardo Hernandez (sets), Josh Horvath and Ray Nardelli (sound), Mike Tutaj (projections) and Birgit Wise (costumes). Joseph Drummond is the production stage manager and Briana Fahey is the stage manager.