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  • GiantLogo.jpgMichael John LaChiusa and Sybille Pearson's musical Giant, an adaptation of Edna Ferber's 1952 novel about the history of Texas in the early 20th century as seen through one of its reigning ranch families, opened last week at the Dallas Theater Center in a production starring Aaron Lazar, Kate Baldwin, PJ Griffith, Dee Hoty, and John Dossett. (It had previously appeared in a different form and with a largely different cast at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, in 2009; read our earlier story for more information about that version of the show.) Pearson, a well-known playwright and the Tony-nominated librettist for the 1983 musical Baby, supplied the book for Giant, and agreed to answer a handful of questions about her work, bringing Ferber's sprawling writing to the stage, and how the show has changed over the last three years.

    BroadwayStars: How did you approach making changes following the original run at Signature? And could you detail a few specific changes?

    Pearson: It was a decision made after the Signature run. Did we want a "five-hour" show with two small intermissions or a piece that would let an audience come at eight and leave by eleven? Still a long night (these days) in the theater. Since Giant is an epic piece, covering 27 years, moving through many characters' lives, not a chamber piece or a "maximum seven people in the cast" show, we had to lose time but hopefully not nuance and character. Giant's been on a diet now for two years. A large change was cutting Leslie and Bick's first night after meeting, when they are in separate rooms with Leslie learning all about Texas in a night, while Bick learns that "he's lost in the girl." This was a sung sequence, a love duet sung in two different rooms and a fifteen-minute sequence. We've also trimmed most of the scenes, a beautiful song for Leslie [called] "Strange," and found a musical way to combine the old Act One and the old Act Two.

    BS: How has switching directors to Michael Greif changed the way you view the show, or informed the choices you've made during the writing process?

    P: A new director brings in a new sensibility. He's the third collaborator: book, score, director. Plus he's formed the [creative] team for our new production: Allan Moyer, sets; Kenneth Posner, lights. A musical has, as you know, many collaborators who add their sensibility and talent to the work.

    BS: How have the new cast members affected the writing process?

    P: Every actor must question, suggest, discover the actions of the scenes as they find their way into their characters. When the suggestions are good and don't mess with their character's subtext, I'm happy to make the words fit in their mouths.

    BS: What additional changes (if any) did you make to the show during the Dallas preview period?

    P: I guess "clarity of place and character" is what I've worked on most. We have a turntable that moves the piece swiftly from location to location. As the audience at the beginning of the piece is focusing on the swirling stage, I discovered some "subtle" lines introducing place and speaker needed to be more direct.

    BS: What is the biggest challenge you've faced in writing and/or rewriting this show?

    P: The challenges for a show of this size change continually. Each move: from three to two acts, from rehearsal hall to stage, from piano to orchestra presents a challenge. The biggest challenge, though, was to turn the novel with its cast of truly thousands of people, cows, horses, landscape, and much plot into a story that sings.

    BS: Given that almost the entire show is set in Texas, and the state essentially functions as one of its main characters, how have Dallas audiences been reacting to it?

    P: I was scared and also excited to bring this iconic ranch/movie to Dallas. To Texas. We take a look at the beauty of the land as well as the problems: Mexican/Anglo relationships, oil versus the land, a marriage in which the wife becomes the antagonist to the state as well as to her husband, etc. The audiences have been listening, have been moved, have proved that Texas is a good audience for Giant. I'm very grateful. In this economy to get a chance to try out a new show away from [New York] is a gift.

    BS: Is there more you want to do with the show between now and when it opens in New York, or do you think it's already in more or less its final form?

    P: Nothing that's in process in the theater, in my mind, is in its final form until its time is over. We're fortunate that we have more time.

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