Saturday, November 3, 2012

Giant ***

(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
The Public Theater deserves an A for ambition for mounting this musical version of Edna Ferber's novel, with music and lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa and book by Sybille Pearson. With a cast of 26, a 17-piece orchestra, a two-level revolving set (by Allen Moyer) and lavish costumes (by Jeff Manshie), this production, now in previews, is indeed Texas-size. The action covers 27 years, from the mid 1920's to the early 1950's, in the marriage of rancher Jordan "Bick" Benedict (the versatile Brian D'Arcy James) and his Virginia bride Leslie (the radiant Kate Baldwin) on the family's gigantic southwest Texas ranch. LaChiusa's music is supple, varied and well-integrated into the action. While there are several effective numbers, there are none that you will leave humming. Also, many of the songs seemed to be pitched near the top of a singer's vocal range and sounded a bit strained and shrill. Some of the best songs go to supporting characters: Bick's domineering sister Luz (Michelle Pawk), Uncle Bawley (John Dossett), neighbor Vashti (Katie Thompson) and Mexican ranch hand Angel (Miguel Cervantes). PJ Griffith has a hard time finding a coherent character in Jett Rink, the bad boy turned oil magnate. Bobby Steggert plays sensitive son Jordy Benedict Jr. and Mackenzie Mauzy is his tomboy sister Lil Luz. The show seemed less than the sum of its parts; perhaps this is a result of an hour being trimmed from the show since its Dallas premiere. Four hours may have been impractical, but was probably more coherent. If you go expecting another "Showboat," you will be disappointed. If you approach it without such expectations, you may well enjoy yourself. Michael Greif directed. Running time: 3 hours, 5 minutes including intermission.


Anonymous said...

The show in Dallas ran not four hours, but slightly over three hours (pretty much the same as now), having been trimmed and re-worked considerably from the earlier version at the Signature in Virginia, which did run about four hours. I've read that LaChiusa and Pearson's intent (at least expressed during the Signature run) is to develop GIANT in two different versions, the shorter one as a musical and the longer one as an opera. Having seen only the Dallas production, I'd love to see the longer one as well, especially with an even larger orchestral ensemble, as I found the music to be thrillingly beautiful and touching.

For me, many of the songs were very memorable; I still play "Heartbreak Country" in my head, and some others were still playing there days after seeing the show the first time (saw it two more times eventually--thank goodness for cheap tickets). Even so, whether or not I'm able to hum a particular song or interlude after seeing a show does not determine the quality of a score or my enjoyment of it. I don't go in expecting a LaChiusa score to be quickly memorable in the way, for instance a Gershwin, Loesser, Rodgers, Styne, Bock, Adler & Ross, or other such composers' scores often are. But for me, LaChiusa's scores are marvelous in different ways, and don't require me being able to hum many tunes on the way out, for them to be memorable. I am excitedly awaiting a cast recording of this show, and only wish I could have one from the Dallas production, including replaced actors like Aaron Lazar (Bick), Dee Hoty (Luz), Matt Doyle (Jordy), and Brian Mathis (a Dallas-area actor who played Bawley after Mr. Dossett had to leave--both were excellent, in quite different portrayals).

Very shortly after she began singing, I knew that people were going to be talking a lot about Katie Thompson, who makes such an impact. I also adored Natalie Cortez, and greatly enjoyed Miguel Cervantes and the rest of the cast. Dee Hoty was perfect as Luz; I'd be interested to see what Michele Pawk does with the role. PJ Griffith was interesting, icky and odd, and had a hard task, given his character's material and arc; there was a lot good there, but for me the whole Jett storyline didn't work as it should, and I missed Jett being a real temptation to Leslie (haven't read the novel, only seen the movie). Here's a video from a morning show, where Lazar and Baldwin performed a bit; even with just an electric piano and sterile studio set, and singing so early in the morning, the song comes off pretty well:

Robert Sholiton said...

Thanks for your informative remarks.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Bob - Your review is right on. After reading the Times Review, I expected the show to be so-so but I found that in the 3 hours and 15 minutes I was never bored. That is the real test, if you ask me.