In Arena Stage and Seattle Repertory Theatre’s co-production of Pullman Porter Blues, 12 classic blues songs bind the stories of three generations of Pullman train porters and the passengers they encounter on a journey from Chicago to New Orleans. The show begins in 1937, as Joe Louis and James Braddock battle in the boxing ring, and the black porters on the Panama Limited continue to face discrimination and dehumanizing labor conditions. Playwright Cheryl L. West says she gathered her inspiration from her first rail trip, when she encountered the ever-grinning porters, who were obligated to smile on the job, and innocently assumed they were merely happy to be on the train. A live band will perform blues tunes onstage for the show’s duration. That’s one way to brighten up this story of racial tension and exploitive labor.

The show runs to Jan. 6 at Arena Stage, 1101 6th St. SW. $45-$94. (202) 554-9066.