Summer theater festivals are upon us, so it's time to brush up on the Bard. Thanks to the Royal Shakespeare Company's glorious nine master classes, Playing Shakespeare, now out on DVD (from Athena June 2), it's easier than ever. A glittering cast including Judi Dench, Ben Kingsley, and Ian McKellen, analyzes, deconstructs, and performs for each other some of the greatest works in the English theatrical canon.
Casting call for Maria
When British music impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber fulfilled a life-long dream to produce "The Sound of Music" in London's West End in 2006, he scored a TV triumph as well. The hit BBC reality show, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? documented the song- and tear-filled casting process to find a new star. Now BBC America brings the seven-part series to US audiences starting June 7 at 10 p.m.
Butterflies flutter by
One The simplest of summer pleasures is watching butterflies. The Audubon Society's latest video guide, Butterflies: Common & Endangered (Mastervision, $39.95), takes you on a delightful tour of North America's 75 most common ones, with some extraordinary footage of a Monarch's life cycle. So plant your zinnias and invite the painted ladies!
Philately will get you nowhere
Stamp collecting, chemistry, and the most resourceful 11-year-old since Harriet the Spy combine to make Alan Bradley's first novel The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie a delight. Flavia de Luce, budding chemist and terror to her older sisters, finds a dying man in the family's cucumber patch. Her philatelist father is arrested, and (after an aborted attempt at confessing) Flavia sets off on her bike to clear his name. Debut Dagger Award winner Bradley uses all the tropes of English cozies but adds a beaker's worth of acerbic intelligence. Sequel, please!
Rock icon Neil Young's songs are the soundtrack for a generation. PBS profiles the artist in his own words and those of a core of collaborators – Stephen Stills, David Crosby, Graham Nash, James Taylor – in the American Masters documentary, Neil Young: Don't Be Denied, airing June 10 at 9 p.m. The show's rare access turns this glimpse into an exploration of a relentless artist, adding a cautionary tale as it details the excesses of his journey.
Songwriter/arranger/pianist/singer Allen Toussaint is New Orleans music. Since Louis Armstrong, no single musician has contributed more to The Crescent City's signature sound, from his early songs for Irma Thomas and Lee Dorsey to arranging and performing with Dr. John, the Band, and Elvis Costello. Now the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famer steps out front with his first solo album in 10 years. The Bright Mississippi CD is brimming with New Orleans funk, old-time jazz, soul – and laid-back charm.