×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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.

Popular on Variety

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

  • Bella Bella review

    Off Broadway Review: Harvey Fierstein's 'Bella Bella'

    Harvey Fierstein is one busy guy. A Broadway institution with four Tony Awards for acting (“Torch Song Trilogy,” “Hairspray”) and playwriting (“Torch Song Trilogy,” “La Cage aux Folles”), he has also written everything from teleplays (“The Wiz Live!”, “Hairspray Live!”) to an award-winning children’s book, “The Sissy Duckling.” His movie work includes “Mrs. Doubtfire” and [...]

  • Soft Power Jeanine Tesori

    Listen: Jeanine Tesori and the 'Soft Power' of Musicals to Change Minds

    The title of “Soft Power,” the new play-cum-musical by playwright David Henry Hwang and composer Jeanine Tesori, refers to cultural influence — in this case the cultural influence of America on China, and of China on the U.S. According to Tesori, the term might also describe the force that musical theater itself can exert in [...]

  • Jane Alexander James Cromwell

    Jane Alexander, James Cromwell to Star in Broadway's 'Grand Horizons'

    Jane Alexander and James Cromwell will head up the Broadway cast of Bess Wohl’s “Grand Horizons.” The two Oscar nominees will star as Bill and Nancy, a couple whose five-decade-long relationship unravels when they move to a retirement community. After Nancy decides she wants a divorce, her family life is sent into disarray. The show [...]

  • Chasing Rainbows review

    New Jersey Theater Review: Judy Garland Bio 'Chasing Rainbows'

    Judy Garland’s voice was unparalleled and rich, an emotive contralto that lasted long into her later years with a loud and winning showiness to go with its melodramatic nuances. But that voice concealed a troubled backstory, as the woman born Frances Ethel Gumm toted the baggage of a closeted gay father, an ugly duckling’s insecurity [...]

  • Broadway Review: David Byrne's 'American Utopia'

    Broadway Review: David Byrne's 'American Utopia'

    One constant of David Byrne’s long and prolific career is his ability to grow a seemingly simple idea into something brilliant, whether it’s the melody of “Road to Nowhere” or the concept of the “Stop Making Sense” tour some 36 years ago, where the premise of bringing out nine musicians, one at a time per [...]

  • The Sound Inside review

    Broadway Review: 'The Sound Inside' Starring Mary-Louise Parker

    Mary-Louise Parker will take your breath away with her deeply felt and sensitively drawn portrait of a tenured Yale professor who treasures great literature, but has made no room in her life for someone to share that love with. The other thesp in this two-hander is Will Hochman, endearing in the supportive role of a [...]

  • Little Shop of Horrors review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Little Shop of Horrors'

    With its strains of kitschy doo-wop and its sci-fi B-movie inspirations, the quaint 1982 musical “Little Shop of Horrors” hardly seems a thing of modern-day revivalism, even despite its touches of S&M. Yet this year alone, not only is there an Off Broadway production of the blackly comic “Little Shop” featuring Jonathan Groff of Netflix’s [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content