Bick and Leslie's Big Song in Giant
There are many things amiss in the musical Giant, the Dallas Theater Center/Public Theater co-production playing a couple more weekends at the Wyly Theatre. But let's just look at the top dozen.
1. These Yankees make rotten Texans. The whole cast of Giant was imported from New York Cit-ay. Their fake Texas accents screw up vowels and consonants. Real Texans hit their Rs hard, for instance; we don't elide over them or sound like a breathy Georgia peach. The main accent needed for Giant is the one from Southwest Texas. To hear differences in regional Texas accents, listen to Robert Duvall in Lonesome Dove and Robert Duvall in The Apostle and Robert Duvall in Tender Mercies. Ditto Tommy Lee Jones when he plays Texans. It's a big state with lots of ways of drawling diphthongs. Nobody in Giant talks right.
2. Edna Ferber, who wrote the epic 1952 novel Giant, captured the flat but witty way real Texans turn a phrase. The book is full of spicy dialogue among rich ranchers and their bored-to-distraction wives who complain about having to take their "little ol' bitty plane" on a shopping trip to Neiman's or "not having enough clothes to dust a fiddle." The musical's book, adapted by Sybille Pearson, reflects almost none of Ferber's funny snatches of conversation. It also misses the novel's portrayal of how new oil money corrupted families who once lived off the land, one of the major themes of the book.
3. Giant, the book and the 1956 movie, tell parallel stories of the Benedict family, owners of a 2.5 million-acre cattle ranch in Southwest Texas, and the gradual rise in status of their Mexican-American workers. When Bick Benedict brings his Virginia-born wife Leslie home from their honeymoon, her first venture away from the main house is into the squalid shack of one of Bick's chief vaqueros (Mexican cowboys). (The scene is in the musical, but it's unclear where Leslie is or who the Mexican lady with the baby is.) Leslie vows to Bick, to his great displeasure, to improve living conditions for the workers. By the end of the book, she's done that, and Bick and Leslie's son, Jordy, has married the daughter of one of the workers, showing an uneasy but inevitable change in Texas culture. In the musical, the only time a vaquero character is allowed a solo, he's dead before his song is over. The plot about Jordy's wife is altered, too, without the emphasis on racial discrimination.
By Karen Almond
4. Sybille Pearson's adaptation of Giant for the stage omits many of the novel's best scenes -- like Jett Rink showing up at Reata covered in oil from his gusher coming in, which was also a key moment, played beautifully by James Dean, in the film. And Pearson adds weird stuff, turning a grizzled old bachelor-cowboy character, Uncle Bawley, into a man who sings a long ballad about dreaming of being a concert pianist and traveling to Paris to have drinks with Claude Debussy. I combed the book for any reference to Uncle Bawley's love of music or his desire to fraternize with French composers. Didn't find it. Pearson also gives a second-tier female character breast cancer, another plot point the novel didn't have and the musical doesn't need.More »