Essential Arts: 'Brutality chic' moves and the freedom of expression

I'm Craig Nakano, filling in for Kelly Scott, the arts and culture editor for The Times. Here's this week's look at the stories you shouldn't miss:

MLK’s ‘Birmingham Jail’ letter

The newest boundary-crossing work by Anna Deavere Smith — Tony Award nominee, Pulitzer finalist, MacArthur fellow and “Nurse Jackie” actress — opened this week at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. "Never Givin' Up" combines a reading of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter From Birmingham Jail" with live music and Smith’s interviews with those carrying on King's fight for equality. With the nation still troubled by videos of police action against unarmed black men, theater critic Charles McNulty says, Smith’s production has an emotional intensity rooted partly in "King's passionate moral intelligence" and partly in "our own historical moment to reengage the substance of King's letter." “Never Givin’ Up” runs through April 26.

(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

Steps forward

The power of art to reflect and effect social change also was on the mind of Robert Battle, artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, who opened his troupe’s run at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with a speech about “artistry as a weapon for change.” Lewis Segal assesses the dancing, full of power and pounding rhythms, as “brutality chic.”

LACMA goes Hollywood

There are the names on the walls: Magritte, Ruscha, Hockney, Pittman. And then there are the names working the room: Kanye, DiCaprio, Iger, Grey. As the Los Angeles County Museum of Art holds its 50th anniversary gala weekend, Times staff writer David Ng explores LACMA’s Hollywood connections, evident in the fact that more than a third of the museum's trustees now hail from show business. 

The conundrums of conscience

Before he caught “Never Givin’ Up,” McNulty was in New York to see Elizabeth Moss and Carey Mulligan performing across the street from each other -- Moss in the Broadway revival of Wendy Wasserstein's "The Heidi Chronicles,” Mulligan in David Hare's "Skylight." Though the productions vary in their levels of success, McNulty saw parallels in stories about women grappling with moral decisions and trying to live by their ideals.

(Carol Rosegg)

‘Finding Neverland’ on Broadway

Harvey Weinstein called it "the hardest thing I've ever done." The “it” in question is "Finding Neverland," the screen-to-stage adaptation of the 2004 film about “Peter Pan” playwright J.M. Barrie, a widow and her sons. Starring Kelsey Grammer and Matthew Morrison, "Finding Neverland" marks Weinstein's Broadway debut as a creative producer and is opening after nearly five years of development and an investment of more than $20 million. Ever since a 2010 British tryout got panned, the show has been evolving — and evolving — Times staff writer Steven Zeitchik reports from New York, where "Neverland" underwent eleventh-hour adjustments.

From Havana to the Hammer

For an hour and a half, free-speech advocates took to a podium and expressed themselves for  one minute each. It was a small gesture that had traveled a long way: The Hammer Museum in Westwood re-staged "Tatlin's Whisper #6" by Cuban artist Tania Bruguera, whose passport was confiscated last year after she attempted to stage the piece in her home country’s Revolutionary Square. Carolina Miranda paints the Hammer scene.

(Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)

In short:

With tourism from mainland China growing rapidly, the Getty has taken the lead in museums’ efforts to get “China Ready.” … What happens when a TV anchor spontaneously ends his broadcast with a prayer? And what happens when those prayers, as impossible as some may seem, all begin to be answered? “The Power of Duff” at the Geffen Playhouse asks compelling questions, our review says, even if it can’t provide all the answers. … The Eroica Trio premiered Michael Torke's "Winter Trio" at Caltech. The Pasadena campus may have been sunny and warm, but the new piece was all about winter's icy gloom. Times critic Mark Swed has the review.

Coming up this week:

Art critic Christopher Knight with the unlikely and almost unbelievable tale behind a newly acquired LACMA masterwork, one of 50 new pieces added to the permanent collection in celebration of the 50th anniversary. … Swed checks out the Bach Collegium, one of Southern California’s most ambitious early music ensembles. …  A sit-down with actor Jimmi Simpson, wowing audiences with his role as a chimpanzee in "Trevor." … A review of South Coast Repertory’s "Mr. Wolf," the first major Southern California production of a play by Rajiv Joseph since "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo."