Giant: Review Roundup

Brian d'Arcy James

The new Off-Broadway musical Giant, based on the 1952 novel by Edna Ferber that was also the basis for the Oscar-nominated 1956 film, opened to very appreciative reviews. The creative team includes Sybille Pearson (book), Michael John LaChiusa (lyrics, music), Michael Greif (direction), Allen Moyer (sets), Jeff Mahshie (costumes), Kenneth Posner (lights), Brian Ronan (sound), David Brian Brown (hair), Bruce Coughlin and Larry Hochman (orchestrations), Chris Fenwick (music direction), and Alex Sanchez (choreography). The cast includes Enrique Acevedo (Miguel Obregon), Raul Aranas (Polo Guerra), Mary Bacon (Mrs. Lynnton, Adarene Morley), Kate Baldwin (Leslie Lynnton Benedict), Miguel Cervantes (Angel Obregon), Natalie Cortez (Juana Guerra), Rocío Del Mar Vallés (Analita), John Dossett (Uncle Bawley Benedict), Jon Fletcher (Bobby Dietz), P J Griffith (Jett Rink), Michael Halling (Clay Sullivan, Lord Karfrey), Brian D’Arcy James (Bick Benedict), Mackenzie Mauzy (Lil Luz Benedict), Doreen Montalvo (Lupe), Michele Pawk (Luz Benedict), Allison Rogers (Heidi Mueller, Lady Karfrey), Isabel Santiago (Deluvina Obregon), Martín Solá (Dimodeo), Bobby Steggert (Jordy Benedict Jr.), Matthew Stocke (Mike McCormack), Katie Thompson (Vashti Hake Snythe), and William Youmans (Mott Snythe).

Ben Brantley (N.Y. Times): This is a high-reaching musical, and practically every number in it is one of determined aspiration. … But there’s another, countervailing force at work here: a mighty tug of gravity that keeps pulling the show down to earth and even threatens to bury it. That force is the weighty obligation of condensing a plot-packed, multigenerational doorstop of a novel. … It’s a long, crowded journey that Giant takes us on. Fortunately there are picturesque stops along the way, a few you might even call breathtaking. … It tells its long and winding story with admirable clarity. But when Mr. Dossett and Ms. Thompson sing, you realize what you’ve been missing. That’s the distinctive breath of specific lives, which too often in this show are swept up in the relentless winds of saga spinning.

Erik Haagensen (Back Stage): Book writer Sybille Pearson and composer-lyricist Michael John LaChiusa have set themselves a daunting task in wrestling Edna Ferber’s  sweeping 1952 novel about the creation of then-modern Texas into shape as a three-hour show. That they have succeeded as much as they have is cause for celebration. At its best, which is often, Giant is compelling musical theater, full of interesting, complex characters and striking, multilayered songs. … Director Michael Greif stages the show seamlessly on Allen Moyer’s spare set, which combines with lighting designer Kenneth Posner’s washes of color on a cloud-strewn scrim to effectively suggest the tale’s vast open spaces. … I can’t wait to see it again.

Andy Propst (Theater Mania): Superlatives and hyperbole are dangerous things in reviews, but for this three-hour saga that’s set in a state where bigger is always considered better, they seem appropriate. They’re also incredibly well-earned, particularly for LaChiusa, who has created a sweeping, soaring score. … Pearson’s book lays bare the contemporary relevance of Ferber’s story. … With Giant, two natural comparisons to two unquestioned classic musicals come to mind: Oklahoma! which shares the show’s southwestern milieu and Show Boat, which was also inspired by a Ferber novel. It’s probably too early to place this new tuner squarely into this canon of seminal musicals. Nevertheless, mentioning all three in the same breath feels warranted and supremely natural.

Steven Suskin (Variety): What could have been sprawling and unfocused has been rustled into manageable shape, with impressive performances from the two stars. … [LaChiusa] breaks through with a score that is tuneful, expansive and more emotional than intellectual. … [Pearson] makes pretty good sense of Ferber’s novel, developing no fewer than 12 distinct characters and including several riveting scenes straight from the text. … [Greif] 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. … 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.

Terry Teachout (Wall St. Journal): Giant is the most important new musical to come along since The Light in the Piazza. It’s a show of immense and fully realized promise. … The result is a show that doesn’t have any slow spots – one that feels not long, but big. This musical spaciousness is central to the theatrical effect of Giant. … As lovely as Mr. Moyer’s set is, I wish it were dirtier, just as I wish that Mr. Greif had brought in a diction coach to help the members of the cast, Mr. James in particular, sound more authentically Texan. … Like Oklahoma! before it, Giant tells an all-American tale in a way that is well suited to the present moment. It’s a myth, but an honest one, enacted with high seriousness and great beauty. This show is built to last.

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