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'The Great War's' portrayal of WWI battlefield horror proves ingenious

Last year marked the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I — a hellish anniversary, to be sure, but one that couldn't go unmarked. Observe how the geopolitical consequences of that conflagration are savagely playing out in the Middle East, where national boundaries decided upon by the Allied victors following the brutal logic of their own economic interests have led to a century of strife and instability in the region.

Though historians are still arguing over the principal cause (apparently it's a good deal more complicated than the multiple-choice answer "the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand"), there is no debating the calamitous waste of life, with the military and civilian death toll nearing 20 million in some estimates.

How can such overwhelming atrocity be understood? In small increments only, as the "The Great War," an ingenious live animation film created by Dutch theater company Hotel Modern and composer Arthur Sauer, artfully demonstrated this weekend.

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Weilerstein, Hakhnazaryan lift L.A. Chamber Orchestra with youthful vigor

Youth was served in Glendale’s Alex Theatre by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

Making his debut on the podium with LACO on Saturday night was Joshua Weilerstein -- born 1987, not long ago a Los Angeles Philharmonic Dudamel Fellow, more recently assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic. The soloist was the Armenian cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan, born in 1988, one of the last protegés of the revered Mstislav Rostropovich. And there was a piece on the program by Joseph Hallman, born in 1979, which made him the oldster of the three.

At the pre-concert talk, an audience member made note of the irony of this youthful trio onstage and the advanced average age of those attending the concert, wondering how classical musicians are going to attract younger audiences. The enthusiastic Weilerstein was prepared for that one, advocating ideas that make links between pop culture, contemporary music and the classical repertoire.

I suppose this program may have been one small step in that direction...

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Neeme Jarvi leads L.A. Phil through Brahms, Suk's rhapsodic Fantasie

A wag once said that Neeme Järvi seemed intent upon recording the Schwann catalog, which at the time meant everything in sight.

A glance at the veteran Estonian conductor’s voluminous repertoire indicates that the wag may not have been kidding.

If you ever wanted to sample the symphonies of Hugo Alfven, Niels Gade, Johan Halvorsen, Alexander Glazunov, Franz Schmidt, Wilhelm Stenhammar or Eduard Tubin, Järvi has a recording for you. Symphony cycles by the big names are in his catalog too -- Dvorák, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Sibelius, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky -- but sometimes peppered with bonuses like the original and rewritten versions of Prokofiev’s Fourth or the reconstruction of Tchaikovsky’s Seventh. And that barely scratches the surface.

So the intrepid classical music fan should expect out-of-the-way repertoire when Järvi comes to town, and he did provide some Friday, the first of three consecutive nights at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Sandwiched between a pair of Brahms standards was...

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Kenneth Branagh reuniting with 'Cinderella' Lily James in theater series

Hot off the worldwide box-office success of Disney's "Cinderella," Kenneth Branagh will be heading back to the London theater scene to produce a new series of plays, including a staging of "Romeo and Juliet" starring his "Cinderella" leading lady Lily James.

Branagh will present a lineup of five plays at the Garrick Theatre on London's West End starting later this year. It will mark a return to running a theater organization for the Oscar-nominated actor-director, who headed the Renaissance Theatre Company in the late 1980s and early '90s.

The new series, called Plays at the Garrick, will feature Branagh both acting in and directing productions of classic and contemporary works.

Shakespeare's "A Winter's Tale" will reunite Branagh with Judi Dench in a staging codirected by Branagh and Rob Ashford. Dench has collaborated numerous times with Branagh on stage and screen, including his 1989 film version of "Henry V."

"A Winter's Tale" is set to begin performance in October. Dench will play...

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'Power of Duff' at the Geffen: News, sports, weather (and prayer) at 11

As the Brian Williams scandal suggests, we expect a great deal of our TV news anchors: eloquence, impartiality, polish, charisma, confidence without vanity. In times of disaster, we hang on their words with a childlike trust. Yet our adoration is tinged with condescension: From “Broadcast News” to “Anchorman,” films have built up a stereotype of the anchor as a beautifully groomed but dopey show dog, a genial airheaded cipher, all style and no substance.

Stephen Belber’s play “The Power of Duff,” which opened Wednesday at the Geffen Playhouse, gives us Charles Duff (Josh Stamberg), a talking head in Rochester, N.Y., who one night spontaneously ends his broadcast with a prayer for his recently dead father. His earnest co-anchor, Sue (Elizabeth Rodriguez), and the goofy sports guy John (Brendan Griffin), are shocked; their craven boss, Scott (Eric Ladin), delivers an astringent lecture on journalistic integrity.

But Scott changes his tune when ratings jump. Duff keeps praying, and uncannily,...

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L.A. theater openings, April 19-26: 'Side Show' and more

Conjoined twins shoot to stardom in "Side Show," two actors play multiple roles in "Murder for Two," and a wild coyote sets events in motion in "My Barking Dog."

A Child Left Behind Alan Aymie’s autobiographical solo show about his life as an LAUSD teacher and the father of an autistic child. Malibu Playhouse, 29243 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu. Sun., 3 p.m. $10-$25. Tickets at www.malibuplayhouse.org. Also, Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. $20. (818) 763-5990.

SHINE The storytelling series celebrates its move to a new venue with true-life tales of new beginnings. Promenade Playhouse, 1404 3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica. Sun., 7 p.m. $10. (310) 452-2321.

A Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Evening With Richard M. Sherman & Friends The veteran songwriter (“Mary Poppins,” “Chitty Chitty, Bang Bang”) is featured in this benefit for Cabrillo Music Theatre. Founders Room in the Kavli Theatre, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks...

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