Giant is the sort of new American musical that you have to root for. It’s big and ambitious, with an expansive, multigenerational story, serious themes and a score by one of the most adventurous of the post-Sondheim generation of theater composers, Michael John LaChiusa. Based on Edna Ferber’s novel — which was turned into a memorable 1956 George Stevens film — it covers 27 years in the life of a Texas ranching family; mixes family soap opera with social history, from the battle between oil men and cattle barons to prejudice against Mexican-American workers; runs for more than three hours. Alas, I found most of it a bore.
The book (by Sybille Pearson) is weighted down with exposition, as it introduces the ever-expanding cast of characters and keeps us apprised of what time period we’re in (“They call it a cold war, this war we’re in now”). On screen, Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean brought enough personality to bind together the sprawling story; here a decent but uncharismatic cast headed by Brian D’Arcy James and Kate Baldwin seems merely to be occupying space. As for LaChiusa’s score, it strives for big-sky, Coplandesque grandeur, but is too repetitive and unmemorable, swelling to frequent cymbal-accented climaxes, but brought down to earth by banal lyrics. Giant is as large as the Texas prairie, but unfortunately just as flat.