So I know it’s been a while since Kate and I have posted much of anything. I blame the wackiest finals month ever and the fact that I actually took the holidays seriously this year. HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean that Kate and I haven’t been getting our fill of best of culture — high, low, and deranged. We’ve got some catching up to do…
One of my goals of the fall Off-Broadway season was to catch Giant at the Public Theater. I knew very little about this musical. In fact, I didn’t even know it was originally an ultra-famous movie starring Elizabeth Taylor. Heck, all I knew was it had something to do with Texas. (Oh, and that Bobby Steggert was in the cast… God help me if I don’t know where Bobby is performing at all times…) I eventually learned that it was the BIGGEST musical ever performed at the Public and the theatre world was getting its underwear in a bunch just talking about it.
Giant follows two generations of a powerful cattle-herding family, beginning in the 1920’s and stretching past World War II. Wealthy cattleman, large-estate owning, country-bred, land-lover “Bick” Benedict (Brian D’Arcy James) fall for East Coast rich girl, cosmopolitan, well-read, and semi-Socialist Leslie Lynnton (Kate Baldwin). Go figure! They marry in the matter of days and Bick brings Leslie back home to run his estate. But beware the weird pervert/outcast, worker guy who feels entitled to the same wealth as Bick and sets his sights on making life as difficult as possible for them! The first act is largely about Leslie growing used to country living and coming to terms with Bick’s other “lover” — no, it’s not a cow– Texas.
In the mean time, bad guy-weirdo Jett strikes oil on his land, becomes a billionaire, and threatens to transform Texas from cattle-country to oil-country.
The music of Giant is undeniably good. While the livelier songs are saved for Jett, everybody gets their turn at truly unique, striking, and authentic songs. Plus, the show’s scattered use of traditional-sounding (still composed by laChiusa) does not feel forced at all but rather strengthens the work as a whole.
The first act sets the stage wonderfully for a tour de force conflict to occur. We get some excellent character development. Even minor characters like Bick’s scorned love Vashti their due. It seems like the second act will bring with it some really awesome Bick vs. Jett vs. Leslie action, some inspired depiction of American-Mexican relations, some kind of beautiful message about change and acceptance and post-war America. However, none of that happens. The second act falls flat. The only semblance of conflict arrives with a criminally underused Bobby Steggert clamoring through the audience yelling at a fattened-up Jett doing a press conference. Meh. As for Mexican-American relations… settle for a “Wheels of a Dream” knock-off.