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Top Picks: Randy Newman, President Nixon opera, Queen at 40, and more

Composer Randy Newman releases his second compilation album, 'Nixon in China' opera airs on PBS, the late Freddy Mercury's legacy, Queen, turns 40, and more recommendations.

June 3, 2011

Nixon in China on PBS

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Grammy- and Oscar-winning film composer Randy Newman ("Toy Story" movies, "Ragtime," among many others) leads a double life. Many of us fans are crazy about Randy Newman the cabaret singer. As a gift to us and the world at large, Newman has recorded his sardonic, hilarious, and often moving repertoire in the studio, solo at the keys. "The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 2," like Vol. 1, is the next best thing to seeing this unique artist and American treasure live. And, by all means, try to do that soon.

Philharmonic theater

Tuck into popcorn as you enjoy the final concert of the Los Angeles Philharmonic's 2010-11 in-theater season, brought to some 400 movie theaters nationwide June 5. John Lithgow will host the program with rising-star brothers Gautier and Renaud Capu├žon playing the Brahms Double Concerto with conductor Gustavo Dudamel at the helm. The show begins at 2 p.m. PDT/5 p.m. EDT. Check FathomEvents.com for theater listings.

Opera as history

Composer John Adams turned Richard Nixon's historic trip to China in 1972 into what has become classic modern opera with his "Nixon in China." On June 1, PBS airs a performance of the piece directed by Peter Sellars and conducted by the composer himself. Look for it under the "Great Performances at the Met" umbrella on your local PBS channel.

Queen at 40

It's hard to believe that Queen, the band (not Prince William's grandma), is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. But it's hardly surprising that they're pulling out all the stops, with remastered double CDs of their first five albums, containing not only hits like "Keep Yourself Alive," "Killer Queen," and "Bohemian Rhapsody," but rarities and demos as well. Art exhibitions, concerts, and other special events honoring the quintessential stadium rockers will go on all year long ... and yes, they will rock you.

The battle for a United States

Hollywood brings its own big guns to the Battle of Gettysburg when Ridley Scott and his brother Tony team up with the History Channel for a two-hour documentary on the famous Civil War battle. "Gettysburg" airs on Memorial Day, May 30, at 9 p.m.

Small act, big impact

Jennifer Arnold's documentary, "A Small Act" (on DVD May 24), is about Chris Mburu, a poor Kenyan boy who, because his primary and secondary school education was sponsored by an anonymous Swedish woman, became a Harvard-educated human rights lawyer for the United Nations and went on to found his own scholarship fund.

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