Essential Arts & Culture: ‘Smash’ hit and a metalhead opera

I'm Kelly Scott, the arts and culture editor of the Los Angeles Times, here with some stories on our radar this week.

Charles Ray, big in Chicago

Los Angeles sculptor Charles Ray is the subject of a major exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. Art critic Christopher Knight visited the show in the Modern Wing of the museum, where he was struck by how strongly the works in “Charles Ray: Sculpture 1997 to 2001” call upon classical antiquity, particularly a new work, "Huck and Jim." “Ray has been absorbing the lessons of antiquity to infuse contemporary figurative sculpture with an imaginative inner life," Knight writes. Unfortunately, Chicago is the only American city the show will visit.

“Huck and Jim” at the Art Institute of Chicago. (Charles Ray / Art Institute of Chicago)

‘Matilda’ acts up at the Ahmanson

The young lady at the head of the cast of "Matilda the Musical"  leads a class of “revolting” children, two truly reprehensible parents and a headmistress who reveals, straightfaced, that her motto is “Children are maggots.” In other words, welcome to the world of Roald Dahl, all done up for Broadway and now, for a  national tour kicking off at the Ahmanson. Theater critic Charles McNulty had reservations about the show but said that when it works, it's enjoyable. “What sets this show about a bookish youngster apart is its narrative enchantment,” he wrote.

A love of reading makes all the difference for Matilda, adorably played by Mabel Tyler, one of three actors who alternate the title role. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Speaking of Broadway

Apparently the people there have never gotten over the cancellation of “Smash.” The NBC series about the birth of a Broadway musical lasted only two seasons, but it will never be forgotten in the 10036 ZIP Code. One night after the Tony Awards, a concert version of “Bombshell,” the show within a show, was performed as a benefit by the original cast. There is talk about doing a full production. Someone even mentioned the Hollywood Bowl. Patrick Pacheco was there.

Christian Borle and Debra Messing were among the “Smash” costars who reunited to sing and dance for the one-night charity event at Minskoff Theatre. (Jay Brady)

Noah Purifoy at LACMA

Earlier this year, Carolina Miranda visited Joshua Tree to see Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Museum. This week, Christopher Knight reviewed LACMA’s “Noah Purifoy: Junk Dada,” a comprehensive retrospective of the artist, who also founded the Watts Towers Arts Center. In one stretch of his career, Purify memorably assembled debris from the 1965 Watts riots. “Perhaps the most powerful of the group is 'Watts Riot,' a tall panel of charred wood. The heat of the inferno melted and fused its painted and plastered materials into a dense, lustrous abstraction,” Knight writes.

Purifoy's large-scale pieces feel like a fusion of architecture and sculpture. The tribute to Frank Gehry, left, nods to the architect's use of humble materials. At rear, to the right, is a whimsical piece titled "Sixty-Five Aluminum Trays. (Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)

‘Dog Days’ and the heavy-metal aria

I’m curious to see if what my colleague Devon Maloney, the Times’ pop music editor, says is true: Heavy metal is always a big draw on the Web. Because “Dog Days,” a Next on Grand contribution from L.A. Opera, is a heavy-metal opera. Not entirely, but as composer David Little told David Ng, “I grew up performing musical theater, but I was also into metal bands like Megadeth.” Our reviewer Damyon Raconjak observed: "It comes to a head in the epilogue, with a thunderous final chord, a long-held drone that begins as a plaintive dirge for the mother but magnifies into the family’s death-shudder."

Composer David Little, left, with Royce Vavrek, who wrote the libretto for “Dog Days,” which originated with a commission from Carnegie Hall and was later fleshed out into its current form with Beth Morrison Projects, the Brooklyn-based new-music initiative. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Broadway, baby

If you read one story more about the Broadway season, as framed by the Tony Awards, read Charles McNulty’s take.

Sydney Lucas of "Fun Home" performs at the Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York. (Charles Sykes / Invision/Associated Press)

Coming up

Mark Swed has filed one dispatch from the Ojai Music Festival, on a special night saluting 90-year-old Pierre Boulez, but Swed's comprehensive wrap-up comes Tuesday. ... David Ng explores summer on Broadway, increasingly seen as a time to launch shows, after years as the off-season. ... "Come From Away," the latest musical directed by La Jolla Playhouse’s creative director Christopher Ashley, opens, and Charles McNulty will have a review.

Portrait of Pierre Boulez, right, is part of the Ojai Music Festival’s Frank Gehry-designed multimedia set. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

What we’re reading

One of Los Angeles' best-known bassoonists, John Steinmetz, has written a warmly inviting introduction to concert-going, a small book that the Naxos record label has made available online. —Mark Swed

Ten of the 18 articles in the June 25 edition of the New York Review of Books are wide-ranging reviews and essays about art — Picasso, Rothschild taste in England, Frida & Diego in Detroit, southern India in the 16th and 17th centuries, etc. —Christopher Knight