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A CurtainUp DC Review
Pullman Porter Blues
The elements are there: a good story line – four generations and their relationship to the railroad – and glorious Blues songs such as “Sweet Home Chicago,” and “Trouble in Mind” played by an onstage quartet. But Pullman Porter Blues gets sidetracked by extraneous characters such as Lutie Duggernut, the stowaway (a vigorous performance by Emily Chisholm) and repetitive exposition.
The show is set on the Panama Limited Pullman train in June, 1937, on the eve of Joe Lewis’s historic boxing match. It comes alive every time the three generations of Pullman Porters played by Larry Marshall, Cleavant Derricks and Warner Miller sing and dance — particularly Larry Marshall who in spite of his age and heft dances like a light-footed and rubber-limbed teenager. His stylish moves are the evening’s high point. Another standout is E. Faye Butler’s Sister Juba, a boozey seen-it-all broad who, like many others on the train, has a hard-luck background. Butler belts “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues,” and a very moving “Grievin’ Hearted Blues” and she too is remarkably graceful when she shimmies. Be prepared though for some humorous vulgarity as she lets it all hang out.
Alexander Nichols’s set evokes an era and a mode of travel that seem far far away from today’s travel and costumer Constanza Romero dresses Sister Juba splendidly.
A co-production with the Seattle Repertory Theatre, Pullman Porter Blues, feels like a work in process. With more music and less words, it could really make good time but right now it just chugs along.