Ai Weiwei: Bare Life
September 28-January 5
The Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum officially reopens with a bang. Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei presents a major exhibition of work that spans the past twenty years of his career, some of which has never before been shown in the United States. Divided into two parts, Bare Life and Rupture, the show features monumental exhibitions such as Forever Bicycles (2019) and Through (2007-2008). The former is a commemorative arch built with Chinese-made bicycles, their carefully positioned tires lining up to create the image of telescoping lenses; the latter is an intersecting series of wooden pillars that pierce the surface of Qing Dynasty wooden tables. The work evokes China's own interrupted and intentionally erased history. Ai Weiwei: Bare Life also includes sculptures, photographs, films and a triptych constructed of LEGO bricks. The show runs from September 28 to January 5.
September 26-October 19
Continuing its proud tradition of righting Broadway's wrongs, New Line Theatre rehabilitated John Waters' musical Cry-Baby with its 2012 production of the show. The musical was pared down by the creators expressly for New Line's inaugural regional production, throwing out the bombast and orchestrations in favor of a more intimate show with a six-piece band. These changes brought Cry-Baby back to street-level 1954, when conformity and close-harmony singing ran headfirst into the hormones and heartache heralded by the pioneers of rock & roll. Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker is the uncrowned king of the Drapes (Baltimore's greasers). When good girl Alison falls for the tender-hearted Wade, she turns her back on all that's decent. Her jilted square boyfriend Baldwin will have his revenge on all Drapes and damn the consequences. New Line Theatre presents Cry-Baby Thursday through Saturday (September 26 to October 19) at the Marcelle Theater (3310 Samuel Shepard Drive; www.newlinetheatre.com).
Mark Deutsch and the Bazantar
Mark Deutsch spent several years in the 1990s in St. Louis, playing and teaching the electric bass and the double bass. His passion for the sitar and the trance music tradition seeped into his work, and he embarked on an arduous journey to create an instrument that blended east and west, bass and sitar. The result is the Bazantar, an acoustic bass with frets, a widened neck and a redesigned bridge that supports the traditional four strings with a secondary framework passing underneath that holds the tension of 35 additional sympathetic and drone strings. In Deutsch's hands, the Bazantar can sound like the music of the spheres or the song of destruction. It howls, it hums, it moans — it's a polyphony of tone and timbre, an orchestra performed by one man. Deutsch introduced the Bazantar to a wider audience at the Sheldon twenty years ago. He then decamped to the West Coast for further sonic explorations. He returns to St. Louis for a 7:30 p.m. performance Tuesday, October 8, once again at the Sheldon (3648 Washington Boulevard; www.thesheldon.org). Don't miss it, or another twenty years may pass before you have the chance to hear Deutsch play it again.
The Who's Tommy
Eight years ago, Stray Dog Theatre unleashed its glorious production of The Who's Tommy. It was a knock out. Associate artistic director Justin Been took the lead on staging the production, revealing his prodigious talents for arranging actors in ever-shifting tableaux. The result was a beautifully kinetic production that made pinball an exuberant celebration of life. At long last, Stray Dog will once again present Tommy in all his deaf, dumb and blind glory, with Been overseeing the production. The show is performed with a live band, as it should be, Thursday through Saturday (October 10 to 26) at the Tower Grove Abbey (2336 Tennessee Avenue; www.straydogtheatre.org).
Ein Heldenleben with Conductor Leonard Slatkin
Leonard Slatkin remains a beloved figure in St. Louis for his work with the St. Louis Symphony, of which he is the conductor laureate. Slatkin returns to town to celebrate his 75th birthday by — what else? — leading the orchestra through a selection of music that finishes with Richard Strauss' tone poem Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life). Despite the piece's modern popularity, it was originally greeted with critical approbation, which Strauss was very familiar with. It's a musical journey through the life of a stylized hero (often presumed to be Strauss himself), who appears, then fights his adversaries and retreats to the comforts of home and his unnamed companion. He returns to battle, earns a hard-fought piece and then retires. The piece is performed at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday (October 12 and 13) at Powell Hall (718 North Grand Boulevard; www.slso.org).
Jay & Silent Bob Reboot
October 15 & 17
Writer/director Kevin Smith is newly slimmed down after a serious heart attack, and re-energized. After lo these many years, he returns to his stoned-bozo version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with Jay & Silent Bob Reboot. Jay is Jason Mewes, Smith's heterosexual life partner who does all the talking, swearing and snoochy-booching. Silent Bob is Smith, the enigmatic man in the trenchcoat who acts as balance to the energetic Jay. When the two Jersey boys learn Hollywood is going to reboot even their film, the two hightail it to the West Coast to either break it up or horn in on the action. Will the pairing still work if Jay can't crack jokes about Bob's girth? Only one way to find out. Jay & Silent Bob Reboot gets a special screening thanks to Fathom Events at 7 p.m. Tuesday, October 15, at the Marcus Ronnies Cine (5320 South Lindbergh Boulevard; www.fathomevents.com), with a special introduction from Kevin Smith. The film plays again on Thursday, October 17, at the same theater as the back half of a double feature with the original Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
Dear Evan Hansen
October 22-November 3
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's musical Dear Evan Hansen caused a national stir on Broadway, thanks to its ultra-contemporary plot. Evan Hansen is a high schooler with social anxiety being raised by his working mom, who's rarely at home. When a pep-talk letter he wrote to himself ends up in the pocket of a fellow student who commits suicide, Evan becomes involved with the grieving family. This gets him closer to Zoe, his longtime crush who's also the younger sister of the deceased. A white lie he tells to comfort the boy's parents spins out of control but also brings him closer to Zoe. Of course, Evan also is throwing out more lies all the time to keep his story afloat, and he's doomed to come back to the truth eventually. The Fox Theatre (527 North Grand Boulevard; www.fabulousfox.com) presents Dear Evan Hansen October 22 to November 3.