For as long as I can remember I have always hated musicals. The sudden outbursts of song at (often) inappropriate moments trivialize even the most serious of issues. I have found that we as an audience can never truly appreciate the social criticisms that a work is attempting to make when incessantly bombarded with drawn out ballads. I frequently find myself enjoying the subject matter, but becoming annoyed with the constant unnecessary interruptions in plotline.
With all that being said, however, I have to say that I did enjoy The Goodman’s production of Pullman Porter Blues (though I probably would have enjoyed it more had it not been a musical). Its plotline was fascinating, juxtaposing the three generations of Pullman Porters and their experiences and attitudes towards the train. And all this amazingly takes place over the course of one shift, forcing us as audience members to realize how much can truly happen in 22 hours and how long that makes a shift feel. We immediately begin to sympathize with the toils of the Porters as their shifts stretch on despite hardships.
Similarly, the set of the play was extremely fun and interactive. Sliding exterior train panels helped to create the illusion of a moving train while internal panels introduced us to hallways and lead the audience into various sections of the train at different times. As a whole, Pullman Porter Blues was also realistic in its period clothing, colloquialisms, and interactions between Caucasian characters and African-American characters. Its correct interpretation of regional and cultural historical events helped to create a play in which the purpose is not lost because of incorrect facts.
In terms of cast, it does not get much better than this. From E. Faye Butler’s sassy and brilliant role Sister Juba to Cleavant Derricks’ tired and militant rendition of Sylvester Sykes. The acting is reflective of a very researched production, showcasing the many opinions of varying African-American generations during times of turmoil. The racial tensions and rising struggles depicted in this place are perfectly tuned to the era.
In addition to its important historic commentary, it was also very clear that Pullman Porter Blues was an immense crowd pleaser. As Sister Juba sang her blues and ranted about the power of women and the vices of men, the crowd around me would swell with proclamations of “Preach, sister!” and “Mmmmmhmmmm”. All of the characters elicited an appropriate response from spectators, making it all the more enjoyable to be part of the audience. Because of its fun nature and wealth of interesting information, I recommend that all who can, go see this play!