Signature Max Theater
“Giant is two hours worth of elegant song spread over four hours of rangy storytelling,” said Peter Marks in The Washington Post. At its best, the “sprawling” new musical based on Edna Ferber’s epic 1952 tale of love and oil on a Texas ranch “plays like a latter-day Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.” Librettist Sybille Pearson’s “potent” book guides us movingly through the love triangle of headstrong rancher Bick Benedict, his socialite wife, Leslie, and “predatory ranch hand” Jett Rink. Set it beside composer Michael John LaChiusa’s “lithe, dramatically compelling” score, and Giant seems an enormously ambitious work, gushing with intensity and passion. The musical forges its own identity, hewing closer to Ferber’s novel than to the 1956 film version starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean. But by attempting to be comprehensive, this Texas-size show sacrifices coherence.
“If you can’t tell a story in four hours onstage, maybe it’s time to reconsider how you approach your source material,” said Michael Toscano in Theatermania.com. Ferber’s novel spans three decades and covers themes ranging from love and greed to the “roots of Texas culture and politics.” There’s simply too much here to be covered in a single evening at the theater. Pearson’s book begs for a “shrewd editing” to bring things into focus. Yet to cut would present a “conundrum”: It would mean paring back LaChiusa’s “glorious score, with its operatic range of sumptuous ballads, country-themed motifs, and contemporary musical theater arias.” Perhaps it’s best to just accept Giant’s rambling imperfections.
Actually, LaChiusa’s “marvelous songs” make the epic production around them seem “far shorter than it is,” said Terry Teachout in The Wall Street Journal. “From the spacious, unhurried lyricism of ‘Lost in Her Woods’ to the sock-hop rock of ‘Jump,’” Giant skillfully turns the idioms of American music to the task at hand. Patient audiences will also be rewarded with some stellar performances, said Paul Harris in Variety. Lewis Cleale’s Bick “is every bit the headstrong Texan,” while Betsy Morgan as Leslie sets the bar early with her “beautiful soprano.” Ashley Robinson may be no James Dean, but he “plays the cocky Jett at full throttle,” providing the requisite sneer and brooding on numbers such as “This Dog Is Gonna Bark.” Like its characters, Giant struggles heroically to handle its own excesses.