I've heard it said that Michael John LaChiusa is one of those composers you either love or hate. I have to disagree, simply because I confess that while I don't hate LaChiusa's work, I'm not enamoured with it either... I fall on this weird middle ground. Having heard Little Fish, Bernarda Alba, and See What I Wanna See, the main feeling I've emerged with is appreciation. They've never moved me, nor had me reaching for the replay button, but I simply couldn't deny their general excellence.
LaChiusa's work is not for the faint of heart. If you're a fan of composers like Andrew Lloyd Webber, you're probably not going to like LaChiusa's work. It's rich, complex, smart music to be sure, but often arrhythmic and written in unconventional structure. Hardly a verse-chorus type song in sight and many tunes aren't what you'd call catchy (though they are very memorable). His latest musical Giant, based on the Edna Ferber novel, follows Bick and Leslie, a newly married couple and one in which Bick must decide between his love for Leslie and his love for his 'country' of Texas. It's difficult to summarize the story as it is, true to the title, quite giant. Luckily, not only is this score excellent, but I do believe LaChiusa has found the hit he's been working ever so hard for.
The score for Giant positively soars, borrowing from many different styles such as country, Bluegrass, blues, jazz, and more to create a score that can completely be described as epic. From the show's upbeat opener Did Spring Come to Texas? to the gorgeous He Wanted a Girl and the sweepingly dramatic Heartbreak Country, there are more standout songs in this than any other LaChiusa score in recent memory. The show's penultimate song The Desert is one of the most emotionally complex and ultimately moving songs I've ever heard in a musical. Lushly orchestrated and beautifully sung by a cast including Brian d'Arcy James, the incomparable Katie Thompson (tragically underused), Kate Baldwin (who has a voice that is so pure and pretty it's almost unreal), Bobby Steggert, and PJ Griffith, Giant is not only beautiful to listen to, but entirely captivating.
This mammoth score, immortalized on a double-disc set, is nearly 2 hours in length. But the beauty of it is that the 2 hours truly flies by. It feels long, sure, but nowhere near as long as it actually is. I got through the entire album in one sitting, never once wanting to take a break or save the rest for later. Despite not knowing a single thing about the story or plot, I still had to keep going. The music is really that good.
This is a triumph for LaChiusa and a score that truly shows that he's a force to be reckoned with. Many songs will have you hooked within seconds, and the ones that don't are still buoyant enough that you can't stop listening. This is easily one of the most beautiful scores written for the theatre that I've ever heard, and it's certainly LaChiusa's best work. I was moved to tears on numerous occasions, particularly because of the potent, vivid, and achingly gorgeous lyrics. This is truly LaChiusa's opus.