Known to many as the man who first directed Rent, Michael Greif has since tackled musicals like Grey Gardens and Next to Normal and is developing a stage version of Far From Heaven which will be Off-Broadway in 2013. Up next is an adaptation of Edna Ferber's oil-gushing novel Giant, which, of course, became the classic 1956 film starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean.
The Giant musical is an adaptation of the novel, not the movie. Will anyone be disappointed? Michael Greif: I've always loved that film, and I think the spirit of the novel is shot through it. The love triangle between Jett, Bick, and Leslie is still strong in our version, since [book writer] Sybille Pearson and [composer] Michael LaChiusa have great storytelling instincts. Giant takes on enormous issues and makes them intimate and personal.
One of the iconic scenes in the movie is with that oil gusher. Will audiences see that? Is that, like, the money shot? [Laughs] Jett tells that story in a very particular way, in a really fantastic song. I feel very satisfied with that gusher onstage.
Your adaptation of Rent closed in September. I was surprised at all the high schoolers packing the Off-Broadway house. It feels great to have some history and perspective with Rent -- so many people bring their game to it. My sadness in its closing is for all those teenagers there every night. I think if you polled them, it would still be the first show they've ever seen.
What do you think of the TV show Smash's depiction of backstage Broadway? I know a lot of the people who make Smash. It makes me feel bad that I don't sleep with my leading actors more! [Laughs] But I do have that long coat -- my version of the duster that Debra Messing wears -- way back in my closet.