×

Giant

While not yet quite ready for the presumably hoped-for jump uptown, this engrossing musical is already pretty swell.

With:
Polo Guerra - Raul Aranas
Jordan "Bick" Benedict - Brian D'Arcy James
Leslie Lynnton Benedict - Kate Baldwin
Angel Obregon - Miguel Cervantes
Mott "Pinkie" Snythe - William Youmans
Mrs. Lynnton/Adarene Morley - Mary Bacon
Luz Benedict - Michele Pawk
Jett Rink - PJ Griffith
Vashti Hake Snythe - Katie Thompson
Uncle "Bawley" Benedict - John Dossett
Lil Luz Benedict - Mackenzie Mauzy
Jordy Benedict, Jr. - Bobby Steggert
Juana Guerra - Natalie Cortez

Giant,” the new Michael John LaChiusa musical at the Public, is indeed giant in scope, aspiration and accomplishment. This Texas-sized saga — based on Edna Ferber’s 1952 bestseller and the sprawling 1956 film version starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean — follows the life of a powerful rancher (Brian D’Arcy James) and his imported-from-Virginia wife (Kate Baldwin) over the course of 25 years. What could have been sprawling and unfocused has been rustled into manageable shape, with impressive performances from the two stars. While not yet quite ready for the presumably hoped-for jump uptown, this engrossing musical is already pretty swell.

LaChiusa has made a career of writing complex musicals that are sometimes hard to embrace, exemplified by his two Broadway offerings (“Marie Christine” and “The Wild Party” twin failures in the 1999-2000 season). With his 11th full-scale musical, he finally breaks through with a score that is tuneful, expansive and more emotional than intellectual. “Giant,” with its two dozen songs, seems inspired by Frank Loesser’s “The Most Happy Fella,” a comparison that reflects well on both sides.

Of major help to the composer, who usually writes his own librettos, is the book by Sybille Pearson (“Baby”). She makes pretty good sense of Ferber’s novel, developing no fewer than 12 distinct characters and including several riveting scenes straight from the text. Director Michael Greif (“Rent,” “Next to Normal”) joined the show following its 2009 debut at Signature Stage in Arlington, where it clocked in at four hours, and he seems to have helped the authors put things in order; he keeps things in constant motion, interweaving the many songs and plotlines while conveying a continuous sense of the enormity of the show’s Texas setting.

James (“Next to Normal”) and Baldwin (“Finian’s Rainbow”) are equally strong as the rancher and his wife, acting their way through courtship, estrangement, pride and racial prejudice. Baldwin is a special joy, singing and acting in a manner reminiscent of Barbara Cook. Newcomer PJ Griffith impresses in the James Dean role, not something easy to pull off in this day and age; what’s more, he can sing. At present, though, the authors leave him stranded in his final scene, which might be true to Ferber but doesn’t work in the context of a musical.An almost unrecognizable Michelle Pawk commands the stage and the plot as the hero’s spinster aunt Luz, who loves the land more violently than the others do. She is countered by (real-life husband) John Dossett, with a lovely performance as the unfulfilled and sympathetic Uncle Bawley.

The central quintet is joined by an impressive group of actors who make distinct impressions in smaller roles, led by Bobby Steggert as the troubled son; Mackenzie Mauzy as the outgoing daughter; Natalie Cortez as the Mexican-American daughter-in-law; and Mary Bacon, with a dynamite speech as a Texas lady friend. Standing out is Katie Thompson as an ugly-duckling ranching heiress; she does a searing job on her first-act solo, and just as well on her second act number.

While by definition an off-Broadway show, “Giant” is already full-sized in cast (22), orchestra (16) and scenery. Allen Moyer’s set is dominated by a weather-beaten water tower on one side, a grand staircase on the other, a massive turntable that serves numerous purposes, and an upper-level bridge used by both actors and musicians. The bridge is often covered by a Cinerama-wide scrim, which allows Moyer, Greif and lighting designer Kenneth Posner to create breathtaking vistas and sunsets. Bruce Coughlin contributes an expert set of colorful orchestrations for Chris Fenwick’s band.

A musical of gigantic proportions, the show still calls for trimming, some minor character clarification and a stronger ending. Even so, LaChiusa’s “Giant” is something to see.

Giant

Public/Newman; 299 seats; $95 top

Production: A Public Theater in association with Dallas Theater Center presentation of a musical in two acts with music and lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa, book by Sybille Pearson (based on the novel by Edna Ferber). Directed by Michael Greif; choreographed by Alex Sanchez.

Creative: Music direction by Chris Fenwick. Sets, Allen Moyer; costumes, Jeff Mahshie; lights, Kenneth Posner; sound, Brian Ronan; hair and wig, David Brian Brown; orchestrations, Bruce Coughlin; additional orchestrations, Larry Hochman; production stage manager, Judith Schoenfeld. Opened Nov. 15, 2012, reviewed Nov. 13. Runs through Dec. 2. Running time: 3 HOURS.

Cast: Polo Guerra - Raul Aranas
Jordan "Bick" Benedict - Brian D'Arcy James
Leslie Lynnton Benedict - Kate Baldwin
Angel Obregon - Miguel Cervantes
Mott "Pinkie" Snythe - William Youmans
Mrs. Lynnton/Adarene Morley - Mary Bacon
Luz Benedict - Michele Pawk
Jett Rink - PJ Griffith
Vashti Hake Snythe - Katie Thompson
Uncle "Bawley" Benedict - John Dossett
Lil Luz Benedict - Mackenzie Mauzy
Jordy Benedict, Jr. - Bobby Steggert
Juana Guerra - Natalie CortezWith: Enrique Acevedo, Rocio Del Mar Valles, Jon Fletcher, Michael Halling, Doreen Montalvo, Allison Rogers, Isabel Santiago, Martin Sola, Matthew Stocke. Musical numbers: "Aurelia Dolores," "Did Spring Come to Texas?," "Your Texas," "No Time for Surprises," "Private Property," "Lost," "Outside Your Window," "He Wanted a Girl," "Heartbreak Country," "Ruega por Nosotros," "Look Back, Look Ahead," "Topsy-Turvy," "When to Bluff/One Day," "My Texas," "I Miss Our Mornings/That Thing," "Jump," "There is a Child," "Un Beso, Beso!," "Place in the World," "Midnight Blues," The Dog is Gonna Bark," "Juana's Prayer," "The Desert."

More Legit

  • The Kilroys The List

    Listen: New List, New Leaders as the Kilroys Push for Parity

    The collective of writers and producers known as the Kilroys has been pushing for gender parity in the theater for five years now. With the launch last week of the latest edition of the List — the group’s annual round-up (inspired by Hollywood’s Black List) of plays by women, trans and non-binary writers — members [...]

  • Annette Bening

    Star-Studded Cast to Perform Live Reading of the Mueller Report

    Haven’t perused the Mueller report yet? A star-studded cast, including Annette Bening, Kevin Kline, and John Lithgow, can read it to you. For one night only on Monday, June 24, stars will perform a live reading of passages from the Mueller report for “The Investigation: A Search for the Truth in Ten Acts,” Robert Schenkkan’s [...]

  • Paula Vogel Never Expected 'Indecent' to

    Paula Vogel Never Expected 'Indecent' to Be This Timely

    When Paula Vogel began writing “Indecent” in 2010, she had no idea how resonant its exploration of immigration woes, anti-Semitism and homophobia in the past century would become in the current political climate. The Tony-nominated play, running until July 7 at L.A.’s Ahmanson Theater, traces the theatrical history of 1907 Yiddish play “God of Vengeance” [...]

  • Bitter Wheat review

    West End Review: John Malkovich in David Mamet's 'Bitter Wheat'

    How soon is too soon? Hardly a year had passed since allegations against Harvey Weinstein were made public before David Mamet announced that his satire on the subject, “Bitter Wheat,” was set to star John Malkovich in the West End. Six months later, we’re sat watching a corpulent, super-rich movie mogul — Barney Fein (cough, [...]

  • Batman Julia Roberts Spike Lee

    Batman, Julia Roberts, Spike Lee Among 2020 Walk of Fame Honorees

    Batman, Julia Roberts and Spike Lee are among the names selected to be inducted into the 2020 Walk of Fame. The full list of honorees was announced by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce’s Walk of Fame Selection Committee via an exclusive livestream by Variety. Chosen from hundreds of nominees during a selection meeting in June, [...]

  • Tracy Letts

    Tracy Letts' Comedy 'The Minutes' to Hit Broadway in 2020

    Playwright Tracy Letts’ comedy “The Minutes” will hit the Broadway stage in Feb. 2020. “The Minutes,” written by actor, producer and playwright Letts, is a comedy taking a look at the current state of American politics through the lens of a small, fictional town called Big Cherry. The play is set in a city council [...]

  • Jamie Forshaw Tapped as Executive Producer

    Jamie Forshaw Tapped as Executive Producer of MWM Live (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jamie Forshaw has been named executive producer of MWM Live, Variety has learned. The theater veteran most recently served as VP of production for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group. In his new role, he will oversee MWM Live’s slate of stage productions with an emphasis on expanding the division’s work on Broadway. MWM Live [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content