Seattle Repertory Theatre Artistic Director Jerry Manning announced today that Seattle writer Cheryl L. West's new play with music, Pullman Porter Blues, will be the season opener for the theatre's 50th Anniversary season, beginning fall 2012. The remainder of the 50th Anniversary season will be announced this spring.
Seattle Rep has a long history of collaborating with some of the country's most important playwrights to develop the next great works of American theatre. The theatre's New Play Program was launched under former Artistic Director Daniel Sullivan and then officially re-energized in 2009 by Manning.
"Since the re-commitment to the New Play Program, Pullman Porter Blues is the first project we've commissioned that will premiere on our main stage," said Manning. "This is an exciting moment to see how the process can work-from the seed of an idea to the full realization of a new play."
In 2008, Seattle Rep commissioned West to write Pullman Porter Blues, and the theatre has worked with the playwright through the development process. There have been three workshops at the theatre.
West and director Lisa Peterson continue development of the script through the New Play Program this year. They have assembled a team of actors and musicians to work on the script in its final phases. They include John Aylward, Emily Chisholm, Chuck Cooper, Larry Marshall, Tonya Pinkins, Warner Miller, Chic Street Man, and Pat Hill.
Peterson, who directed An Iliad at Seattle Rep in May 2010, has been collaborating with West for the past year on the development, and she will direct the full production. Jmichael is the music director and composer. Originally from Alabama, Jmichael is one of the country's leading composers of gospel and spiritual music. Essentially a play with music (as opposed to a traditional musical), Pullman Porter Blues is woven with live blues music, played by musicians who are part of the play's narrative.
Set in 1937 on the Panama Limited train, Pullman Porter Blues centers on three generations of porters working the sleeping cars the night of the famous Joe Louis/James Braddock boxing match. As the train chugs from Chicago towards New Orleans, grandfather, father, and son spar; racial tensions flare; and Midwest blues flavor the night.
Seattle Rep has previously produced four of West's plays: Birdie Blue, Jar the Floor, Play On!, and Holiday Heart, and they commissioned the gospel musical Rejoice!. West has lived in Seattle since 1999. Her work has appeared in theatres across the country, as well as for TV (adaptation of Holiday Heart) and the web series Diary of a Single Mom.
"We have a long history of working with Cheryl, and it has been incredible to partner with her on such a powerful piece," said Manning. "I'm proud that Cheryl is one of our own-a Seattle writer. To start our 50th anniversary season with the premiere of this play? I can't wait."