ON THE RECORD: Michael John LaChiusa's Giant

By Steven Suskin
26 May 2013

Kate Baldwin and Katie Thompson
photo by Joan Marcus
Pawk (Cabaret) was outstanding as the harsh older sister, while Dossett (Newsies) gave the best performance I've seen from him as the sadly wise uncle. (Pawk and Dossett, incidentally, date back to LaChiusa's Hello Again, where they were paired in the memorable "Mistress of a Senator" scene. They married soon thereafter.) LaChiusa being LaChiusa, he didn't overlook the relatively minor younger characters who only start to appear at the end of the first act. Steggert, Mauzy, Cortez, and Thompson each have major moments that are highly effective on the CD.

There are about thirty songs in the show. (That is, after the reduction of about an hour; one assumes that much of the excised material was equally accomplished.) There are far too many to discuss, but after several plays of the CD I find myself jumping back to eighteen or so. Standing out among the standouts are two duets for Bick and Leslie, "Heartbreak Country"—which serves as something of a musical theme—and "The Desert" ("I Need You"); "Did Spring Come to Texas," Bick's opening number; Leslie's "Your Texas" and "A Stranger"; two numbers led by Bawley, "Look Back/Look Ahead" and "Place in the World"; three relatively lively numbers, "Topsy Turvy," "Jump," and "Un Béso, Béso!"; and Juana's numbers, "There Is a Child" and "Juana's Prayer." Most stunning of all are the two songs for the heretofore unknown Thompson, "He Wanted a Girl" ("Dusty Roads") and "Midnight Blues." It is not just that they are excellent, or that she sings them so well; it is the combination.

"Midnight Blues," which is a true beauty, is not the sort of thing we would expect from LaChiusa. But then, LaChiusa has always given us the unexpected. We should also make special mention of the orchestrations by Bruce Coughlin (The Wild Party). These are not just song orchestrations; they are a full musical tapestry and highly impressive.

The last word to be said is that Giant was commissioned by Ted and Mary Jo Shen, whose foundation contributed to the productions at the Signature, in Dallas and at the Public. They who appear to have paid for the CD as well. The Shens have been longtime supporters of important musical theatre writers, including LaChiusa, Guettel and Sondheim (plus productions by quite a few more). Unlike your typical theatre producers, the Shens seem interested not in commercial prospects but in giving artists room to develop and audiences access to work that they need to hear. We are accustomed to seeing various foundations credited in small type on the bottom of the page, so much so that we barely take note. The Shens, though, have made possible a substantial body of work, not only with their money but with their interest, dedication and taste. Something as monumental as Giant simply wouldn't, and couldn't, exist without them.

(Steven Suskin is author of "Show Tunes" as well as “The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations,” “Second Act Trouble,” the "Broadway Yearbook" series and the “Opening Night on Broadway” books. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)