Giant at Dallas Theater Center Takes a Great Novel and Turns It into Musical Queso



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.

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By Karen Almond
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.

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.

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Designer Allen Moyer Strikes Oil on DTC's Giant Set

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By Elaine Liner

Creating the wide open spaces and big skies of West Texas for a huge piece of musical theater has presented an interesting set of problems for designer Allen Moyer. Now finishing up the final details on the scenery for Dallas Theater Center's production of the musical version of Edna Ferber's novel Giant, opening January 18 in previews, Moyer, who designed Broadway's Tony-winning Grey Gardens, gave us a preview of how the show will look.

Expect lots of use of forced perspective, ways of fooling the eye into thinking things are larger than they are. Like, small corrugated cardboard shacks placed upstage to look like they're way off in the distance. A huge water tower downstage for some scenes, replaced with a smaller replica upstage in others.

Giant is an enormous production, with a budget over $1 million, an ensemble of 23 Equity actors cast out of New York and an orchestra playing in full view of the audience on a trestle over the stage. There's so much heavy scenery to shift around at the Wyly Theatre during the two-act show, stagehands work every minute of intermission to get things ready for the second act. (Giant will run just under three hours.)

More pictures of Giant in progress and a chat with Mr. Moyer after the jump.


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WaterTower Theatre Announces Cast for August: Osage County

Categories: Theater News

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Kristin McCollum tackles Ivy in Osage County
For WaterTower Theatre's first local production of August: Osage County, the Pulitzer-winning drama by Tracy Letts, director René Moreno sticks with the star of his acclaimed 2011 Oklahoma City production, longtime Dallas actress Pam Dougherty, in the lead as matriarch Violet Weston.

She co-starred in 2009 as "Big Edie" in WaterTower's local premiere of the musical Grey Gardens, was featured last fall in Dallas Theater Center's To Kill a Mockingbird and made many critics' year-end "best" lists for her performance last year in Roads to Home, Theatre Three's entry in the citywide Horton Foote festival.

Who scored what role? Get the juice after the jump!


 

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DTC Spins a Great Ghost Story in Its Lavish Staging of A Christmas Carol

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You have until Christmas Eve to catch Dallas Theater Center's robust production of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. For this one, the company moves back to its old home at Kalita Humphreys Theater on Turtle Creek, and that's a treat. Kalita really is such a perfectly snug place to stage this classic Christmas ghost story. Every seat feels close to the stage and the production directed by Joel Ferrell makes lavish use of the house's aisles and entrances.

Kurt Rhoads plays Ebenezer Scrooge, making him a fearsome figure who gradually, through the visits by those scary specters, comes to realize his life lived for money has been no life at all. As the beleaguered Bob Cratchit, actor Lee Trull nicely embodies the one-percenter terrified of losing his job with old Scrooge and leaving his family, including disabled Tiny Tim (played by the beyond-adorable Kuran Patel), destitute.

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With Greetings! the Bath House Stage Is Flooded with New Age Ideas

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Given that their core audience comes on buses from places where risk-taking might mean eating dinner past 5, One Thirty Productions is surprisingly edgy with the choice of Greetings! as a Christmas season play. Tom Dudzick, sometimes called the "Catholic Neil Simon," has written something that ventures way outside any neatly wrapped box of Judeo-Christian ideas.

This warm comedy finds a family Christmas interrupted by a mysterious entity, speaking through the voice and body of a mentally challenged adult named Mickey (played with exquisite timing by Ben Bryant). Mickey's parents, the Archie Bunker-like dad (Sonny Franks) and Edith-like mom (Gene Raye Price), are in a tizzy about their other son Andy's fiancée (Julie Osborne). Andy (John Venable) wants his parents to love the girl, but when they discover she's Jewish and atheist, there's a Christmas Eve dinner table meltdown.


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Pegasus Theatre Puts It Out There in Black and White

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Kurt Kleinmann as Harry Hunsacker in Death is no Small Change
There's something to be said for seeing the world in shades of gray. For 26 years that's been the philosophy of Dallas' Pegasus Theatre, which performs its annual murder mystery comedy in trademarked "Living Black and White" style.

This year's show, opening at the Eisemann Center in Richardson on December 29, is The Frequency of Death!, another adventure in Pegasus founder, playwright and star Kurt Kleinmann's series of 16 plays about hapless detective Harry Hunsacker. Every Kleinmann production is designed to look like a black-and-white 1930s movie, with costumes, makeup, hair and scenery rendered color-free.



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Coming Full Circle, Second Thought Theatre Returns to Turtle Creek

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Elaine Liner
Playwright Eric Steele
For its eighth season, Second Thought Theatre, the small-ensemble company founded by Baylor grads, will move back to where it started -- or close to it. Second Thought is leaving the Addison Theatre Centre's black box studio and relocating to 75-seat Bryant Hall, across the parking lot from Kalita Humphreys Theater. Their first show in 2004 was produced in Frank's Place, the studio space above Kalita.

Co-artistic directors Steven Walters and Chris LaBove, working with their third partner, actor Drew Wall, will present three shows in Bryant Hall next year, starting with a new comedy by Walters premiering February 3.

Second Thought's five-show 2011 season (including two festival entries) stretched the company's resources, but they ended the year several thousand dollars in the black, says Walters. It was a rebuilding year for them, with Walters, who is also a company member at Dallas Theater Center, stepping back in as artistic director, actor and producer. He starred in Second Thought's one-man Thom Pain (based on nothing) and says they'll keep doing small-cast plays like that one and their well-reviewed three-hander Red Light Winter, but with an emphasis in 2012 on comedy.

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Here, from Christmases Future, DTC's "Ghost" Speaks

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Photo by Karen Almond
Dallas Theater Center's A Christmas Carol
Part of the fun of Dallas Theater Center's huge production of A Christmas Carol, opening Friday night for a three-week run at Kalita Humphreys Theater, is seeing who plays the ghosts that visit Ebenezer Scrooge. In the spooky adaptation by Richard Hellesen of Charles Dickens' immortal story of greed v. poverty, the ghosts take Scrooge, portrayed this year by Kurt Rhoads, on a journey through time. He revisits his lonely childhood, sees how he screwed up his relationship with his onetime fiancée and learns how his narcissism has affected everyone around him. Then comes the terrifying Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, a hooded specter who shows Scrooge his own grave and warns that if he doesn't change his ways, he'll soon occupy it -- with no one bothering to mourn his passing.

DTC and director Joel Ferrell like to keep the identity of said ghost a secret till show time. But we know who it is. And he's ready to talk.

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A Gathering Gathers Momentum at Rehearsal

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Elaine Liner
Dancers from SMU perform tribute to Fela.
If the run-through Monday night is any indication of the breadth of talent taking part in the December 6 benefit event called A Gathering, the real thing is going to be quite a show.

In the ninth floor studio at the Wyly Theatre, actors, singers, musicians and dancers rehearsed their pieces of this major collaborative effort involving a dozen arts organizations and more than 100 performers. Everyone is donating their time and talent for the event, which will split all of its proceeds among four local AIDS service organizations: AIDS Arms, AIDS Services of Dallas, AIDS Interfaith Network and Resource Center Dallas.

A Gathering: The Dallas Arts Community Reflects on 30 Years of AIDS, playing one night only at the Winspear Opera House, promises an evening of dance, drama, poetry and song commemorating milestones in the three-decade fight against the disease and the toll it has taken on the arts community. The Turtle Creek Chorale, which will perform in the show, has lost more than 180 members to AIDS and related illnesses.

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Off with Their Heads and on with the Show in On the Eve

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The new rock-and-roll musical is called On the Eve. Actor Michael Federico wrote it with his friends Seth and Shawn Magill, the husband-and-wife team who head up East Dallas band Home by Hovercraft. It's about Marie Antoinette, sort of, and you can see its debut, in a pay-what-you-can staged reading, this Friday and Saturday at Nouveau 47 Theatre at the Magnolia Lounge in Fair Park.

Michael and Seth went to SMU together and have been friends forever. They've been trying to write something together for years and finally ended up in the same city (the Magills were in Austin, then New York before moving back here). Says Michael: "We came up with the story of the show together, and then I wrote the book and they wrote the music. The music and the plot aren't typical Broadway musical material, but hopefully that will appeal to some people."

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