(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.