The new musical, “Giant,” now at the Public Theater through December 2, is filled with promises never kept. Based on the novel by Edna Ferber and known lovingly for the film, the theatrical Book, much too heavy with exposition, is written by Sybille Pearson, with Music and Lyrics by Michael La Chuisa. It is hard to believe that this bloated three hour exploration of early Texas is directed by award-winning Michael Greif and that this team has been working on Giant for five years!
Unfortunately, despite a cast loaded with talent, led by Brian D'arcy James and Kate Baldwin, with Michelle Pawk, PJ Griffith, John Dossett, and a great newcomer named Katie Thompson, creating the character of Vashti Hake Snythe, which should earn her nominations for supporting actress, the results are like a turkey over-stuffed with too many ingredients. The score, consisting of 25 songs - yes 25 - tells the story over and over again. The music is unpleasantly monotone with very few melodic songs with which to identify. “Heartbreak Country,” “I Miss our Mornings/That Thing,” and “The Desert,” are three that resonate. While the second act is better, for one thing it is shorter, the production seems as endless as Reatta, the cattle ranch of thousands of acres depicted in this story.
Brian D'arcy James is Jordan “Bick” the head of Reatta. The family, all white, lives royally; the Mexicans, who work the ranch, subsist without water and basic needs, so we learn from Leslie, Bick's educated bride from Virginia, a tall, leggy Kate Baldwin, whom we so enjoyed last in “Finian's Rainbow.” Poor Leslie, she's got lots of problems as an outsider. She must adjust to: sandy dusty Texas and its heat and rattlesnakes; her husband, who loves the land more than his wife, and is never there for her except in bed: Bick's nasty sister, Luz, a stern Michele Pawk: a guy named Jett Rink (PJ Griffith), who is after her: and the inequality she finds among the Mexicans. However, she does not do anything about that for 27 years.
Meanwhile, the cattle ranchers start selling their land for oil rights and riches, although Bick is against it. He loves those cows. Son Jordy, played by the wasted Bobby Steggert, much to Bick's horror, marries a Mexican girl and announces he wants to be a doctor. Obviously, Bick must change. Two scenes are reminiscent of other shows: The soliloquy that Billie sings in “Carousel” is similar to the one Bick sings about having a son, and the bedroom scene with Leslie wearing a white slip and asking for communication with her husband, so much like the scene in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” by Tennessee Williams.
Allen Moyer's sets, accented by Kenneth Posner's lusciously lit sunsets and Jeff Mahshie's costumes, complete the plan. The large orchestra is perched high above the stage, lightly screened from view, except when Spanish singers perform.
“Giant” is at the newly renovated Public Theater through December 2.