Giant – a gigantic achievement for all involved
Oscar E. Moore “from the rear mezzanine” for Talk Entertainment.com
A marriage lasting twenty seven years - not without problems. Set against the background of The Lone Star State – TEXAS. He, Jordan “Bick” Benedict (Brian D’Arcy James) cattle baron – rich, set in his ways, stubborn and madly in love with his land. She, Leslie Lynnton (Kate Baldwin) from Virginia - a ravishingly beautiful, well educated and compassionate woman who discovers that she has married not only Jordon but his ranch as well. Jett Rink (PJ Griffith) a hot, handsome and predatory ranch hand who discovers oil becomes a major part of their story that spans three decades (1925-1952).
GIANT is as big as its name indicates. A sprawling saga written by Edna Ferber in 1952, it has been set magnificently to the intelligent words and melodic and sometimes operatic music of Michael John LaChiusa which includes Mexican folk, jazz, country, boogie, mariachi and power ballads played by a seventeen piece orchestra high above the barren stage of The NY Public Theater’s Newman Theater along with the concise-as-it-can-be-book by Sybille Pearson that manages to include all of the varied characters and huge plot that engulfs us for three solid hours of theatrical mastery.
Skillfully and beautifully directed by Michael Greif I foresee the production moving to Broadway with some additional cuts to tighten Act I. The cast is magnificent. Foremost - Brian D’Arcy James with his rich voice and strong acting ability – the perfect pairing for his wife – Kate Baldwin - giving a confident and moving performance with her vocals unsurpassed.
There are some newcomers who offer star-in-the-making performances. Namely PJ Griffith as Jett – who manages to almost steal most of the scenes he is in with his charismatic voice and good looks - his aw’shucks attitude turning into a tough and smart oil tycoon always on the prowl for a beautiful woman.
Katie Thompson as Vashti with her fiddle and bourbon – the woman from the neighboring ranch who thought she was preordained to marry Bick gets to sing two of the most memorable songs from the show – “He Wanted a Girl” and “Midnight Blues”.
Bobby Steggert as the young son of Bick – Jordy Benedict, Jr. starts off unsure of himself - not living up to his father’s expectations – stuttering to get his words out – a shy boy who would rather read and study, eventually growing into his own skin and marrying a Mexican girl Juana Guerra (Natalie Cortez – who has a natural beauty, a warm heart and a gorgeous voice). They both leave us with great expectations and hope at the beautifully moving finale.
Michele Pawk as Bick’s tough and bigoted sister Luz adds her great talent to the themes of intolerance and race relations. Angel Obregon (Miguel Cervantes) has a wonderful song “Jump” that is lively and funny and touching as he goes off to war. Uncle “Bawley” Benedict (John Dossett) with his booming baritone and understanding wins our sympathy. Everyone in the cast of twenty two is so very good.
There are moments of pure joy and moments of sadness. Of excitement and of stillness set against the panoramic skies of Texas and its oil wells rendered stylistically by Allen Moyer.
The costumes by Jeff Manshie along with the hair and wig design by David Brian Brown convey the changing periods exactly. And finally, the orchestrations by Bruce Coughlin capture the mood of each song that will leave you completely captured and a fan of this terrific tale from Texas which is a gigantic achievement for all involved.
In association with The Dallas Theater Center, GIANT runs through December 2nd.
Photo: Joan Marcus