Brian d'Arcy James takes a 'Giant' step

Frank fans, take heart. Tony Award nominee and popular Broadway vet Brian d'Arcy James, who played Debra Messing's husband, Frank Houston, in the cliche-addled first season of NBC's "Smash" -- and who was one of several characters drop-kicked from the upcoming second season -- is back in a starring role. A (ahem) "Giant" one.

Yes, he's starring in "Giant," a new musical from Tony nominees Sybille Pearson (book) and Michael John LaChiusa (music and lyrics), now in previews at the Public Theater and running through Dec. 2. The tale of Bick, a proud Texas rancher (James), his new East Coast bride (Kate Baldwin) and a dashing upstart oilman (P.J. Griffith) will be familiar to fans of the 1956 film (starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean), though technically this work is based on the novel by Edna Ferber.

Following in Hudson's footsteps might intimidate some, but James played the Tony Curtis role in a musical version of "Sweet Smell of Success," and the green guy himself in "Shrek the Musical."

"It's a great chance to put your own spin on something people might think they already know," says James. "I see it as an opportunity."

As for "Smash," he'll appear in the season 2 opener. "Let's just say Frank has a chance to respond to some of the things that occurred last season," he says, chuckling.

Great, but which? His wife's ridiculously scripted affair? The constantly echoed theme that you're either a star . . . or nothing? (Odd for a supposedly pro-Broadway show.) Or maybe Frank will finally address why he has the mopiest son ever. (Helloooo, boarding school.)

But James won't dish.

"I'll just leave it at that and tease the reader -- I know America is dying to know," he says, laughing.

We can't speak for America, but critics and legions of Twitter-happy theater nerds are all in agreement -- the show (still) has such potential, but James was wasted.

As for lessons learned, well, "There's so much that's out of your control," he says of his first gig as a TV series regular. You can't know how it'll be edited, or how viewers will react -- you just have to keep working, he says. Which brings him back to "Giant."

"I get to spend the day with brilliant people dedicated to making beautiful theater," says James. "That's enough sustenance for me right now."

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