Cleale, Dossett, Blazer, Robinson and More Begin Giant, the Musical, Run April 28 in VA

By Kenneth Jones
28 Apr 2009

Lewis Cleale, Betsy Morgan, Judy Blazer and John Dossett
Lewis Cleale, Betsy Morgan, Judy Blazer and John Dossett

The world-premiere production of the musical Giant, by Tony Award-nominated composer-lyricist Michael John LaChiusa and playwright Sybille Pearson, begins performances April 28 at Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA.

Lewis Cleale, Betsy Morgan, Ashley Robinson, Judy Blazer and John Dossett are its stars, in a Texas-size cast of 21, playing characters created by novelist Edna Ferber.

Jonathan Butterell (who handled choreography/musical staging for Broadway's The Light in the Piazza and recent revivals of Nine and Fiddler on the Roof) directs. Performances play Signature's MAX Theater in Arlington to May 31. Owing to the epic scope of the three-act show, all evening performances will start at 7 PM, with matinees starting at 1 PM.

"Giant chronicles the life and times of cattleman Jordan Bick Benedict, his naïve young society wife, and their family in the sweeping panorama of Texas, the land that brings them together and almost splits them apart," according to Signature. "A sensational story of power, love, lust, and bigotry among the wealthy Anglo cattle barons and oil tycoons, and the downtrodden Mexican-Americans who work for them, Giant is based on the classic novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edna Ferber, which also inspired the film starring James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, and Rock Hudson."

The cast is led by Helen Hayes Award winner Lewis Cleale as "Bick" Benedict. He earned the Hayes for starring as Giorgio in Passion at Signature. Betsy Morgan of Broadway's The Little Mermaid and High Fidelity plays Leslie, Bick's wife. Ashley Robinson (of the original Chicago company of Wicked and the Irish Rep's production of Take Me Along) is Jett. Judy Blazer, a frequent performer on and off Broadway known for her work in LaChiusa's musicals, is Luz. Acclaimed Broadway veteran John Dossett, who received a Tony nomination for his role in the 2003 revival of Gypsy, is Bawley.



With music and lyrics by LaChiusa, Giant is the first work produced through Signature's multi-year American Musical Voices Project.

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Artistic director Eric Schaeffer stated, "We've been working on the show for over three years and it is exciting to bring it to fruition. Ambitious, enthralling and yes, even giant — Giant promises to be a ground-breaking new musical for America."

The cast also includes Enrique Acevedo (Ensemble), Raul Aranas (Polo), Marisa Echeverria (Juana), Jessica Grové (Lil Luz), Michael Thomas Holmes (Pinky), Jordon Nichols (Jordy), Andres Quintero (Angel, Sr. and Jr.), Michelle Rios (Lupe) Isabel Santiago (Angel Jr.'s mother), Paul A. Schaefer (Mike), Martin Sola (Dimodeo), Nick Spangler (Bob, Sr. and Jr., Lord Karfrey), Katie Thompson (Vashti), Julie Tolivar (Lady Karfrey), Mariand Torres (Analita) and Lori Wilner (Adarine).

The creative team also includes set designer Dane Laffrey, costume designer Tony Award-winning Susan Hilferty, lighting designer Japhy Weideman, sound designer Matt Rowe. The music director is Chris Fenwick and orchestrations are by Bruce Coughlin.

In 2006, Signature Theatre was the recipient of a one million grant from The Shen Family Foundation. The funding allowed Signature to launch the American Musical Voices Project, which is commissioning and developing three brand new musicals from Michael John LaChiusa, Ricky Ian Gordon and Joseph Thalken.

Five-time Tony Award nominee LaChiusa first came to national attention by winning Off-Broadway’s 1993 Obie Award for his musicals First Lady Suite and Hello, Again. He was represented on Broadway during the 1999-2000 season by two more musicals, The Wild Party and Marie Christine, which together received 12 Tony Award nominations for the season — garnering LaChiusa two nominations for each production Best Score and Best Book (along with George C. Wolfe on The Wild Party). He received his first Tony Award nomination for Best Book (co-written with Graciela Daniele and Jim Lewis) for Chronicle of Death Foretold, produced on Broadway by Lincoln Center Theater Company in 1996. LaChuisa's works also include Send (who are you? I love you), written for Audra McDonald and commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera; Tres Niñas (written with Ellen Fitzhugh); Bernarda Alba (Lincoln Center Theater); Lovers and Friends: Chautauqua Variations (Lyric Opera of Chicago); Little Fish (Second Stage); and Break/Agnes/Eulogy for Mister Hamm (Playwrights Horizons).

Pearson wrote the book for the musical Baby. She is the author of the plays Sally and Marsha, Phantasie, Watching The Dog, Unfinished Stories and True History and Real Adventure, a play with music (composer Mel Marvin). She and Michael John LaChiusa have recently started work on a commission for the Metropolitan Opera Company.

Giant tickets, ranging in price from $49-$77, are available by calling Ticketmaster at (703) 573-SEAT (7328) or visiting www.signature-theatre.org.