THE LEADING MEN: Brian d'Arcy James Takes a Giant Step Into a New American Musical

By Mervyn Rothstein
15 Nov 2012

Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson in "Giant."
1955 Warner Brothers

Have you seen the movie?
BDJ: I have.

Did the movie, and seeing Rock Hudson's performance, influence you in any way in your portrayal of Bick?
BDJ: Not necessarily. It helped me in an informative way, in terms of seeing one version of a visual representation of this book, which is so beautifully written by Ferber and so detailed in its description of character and place. The movie was helpful in giving me one context of how these people operated in this world. But Sybille Pearson and Michael John LaChiusa have — much like the screenplay was independent of the novel, so too is this version of Giant. It has its own life.

So I think there are three different viable options of Giant. If you have a voracious appetite for "Giant," you can have three different versions, and ours is unique unto itself. There are lots of things that exist in our show that don't exist in the novel or the movie. And similarly, the movie dreamed up some scenes to paint characters in a particular way. And I think that all are fair and good. What I like about our show is that it has its own life and it has its own backbone as well.

So the musical is different from the book as well as being different from the movie?
BDJ: The book is definitely the key and is the template, but just like the screenplay took some detours in order to satisfy its own trajectory, so too did Sybille and Michael John, to shore up the ideas they have about these characters and the themes they want to highlight. You definitely can recognize it, it comes from Ferber's novel, but there are nuances and things that exist in our musical that are born out of the novel.

James in Giant.
photo by Joan Marcus

It's not paradigm shifting. It's in the cracks and crevices. Little things they've decided to highlight. A passage in the novel that may be a couple of sentences that could be explored a little bit more fully for dramatic purposes in the musical. These things breathe differently when they're adapted. That's ultimately what makes it unique, and hopefully compelling.

What is it like to sing Michael John LaChiusa's music and lyrics? Is doing so different from being in other musicals?
BDJ: The short answer is that it's the same, in that the challenges and the job are the same, in that you're given a score and words to look at and memorize and you have to chart a course to figure out how to do it and what's going to be best for you technically. But what I will say about Michael John's music is that attention must be paid, because they're not typical three-chord songs — which I'm a big fan of; I'm a pop music fan. My taste is in that world, and Michael John's music has that flavor, but the way it is written, for me, requires a little bit more attention to figure out what his intentions are and to honor those and just to be aware of how the songs are structured. I still find things in the songs, either lyrically or structurally, that make me think, Aha! I see what he's doing now.

I think he's a brilliant composer, and his melodies in this musical are just gorgeous and stunning and breathtaking. If I may add to that comment, Bruce Coughlin's work in the orchestrations only adds fuel to that fire. What's happening with the orchestra is just incredibly beautiful.