There's Everyman, and then there's Everyschlub. While a good chunk of network television programming over the decades has valorized the American Everyman in dramas about beat cops, detectives, firefighters, cowboys, medical personnel, et al., it's the classic situation comedy that belongs to the Everyschlub. Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden in The Honeymooners established the form; the brilliant Carroll O'Connor as Archie Bunker perfected it with All in the Family. Then along came the Heffernator, and a fat guy in work shorts never looked sexier. As Doug Heffernan in The King of Queens, Kevin James minted comedic gold. Doug delivers packages for UPS ("IPS" in the script) and happens to like his job. He likes watching football with his buds on a ratty couch in his garage, hates jazz but likes Eddie Money, hates reading books but loves TV, and loves his junk food (and lots of it). You get the picture: He's not hip. But in Doug Heffernan, Kevin James had the smarts to portray an ostensibly unsophisticated working stiff plenty sophisticated enough to actually know himself — a rare virtue. Though it's still commonly underestimated by overthinkers as a vehicle for stupid gags in an unfashionable milieu, The King of Queens is in fact one of the best-written, most expertly acted sitcoms in television history. Over nine seasons the series was consistently, unfailingly funny and made you buy its characters as genuine, complicated human beings. These days James chiefly makes movies. He also, fortuitously enough, still does standup, which means we can catch his act Friday, September 13, at 8 p.m. at the Peabody Opera House (1400 Market Street; 314-499-7600 or www.peabodyoperahouse.com). Tickets are $35 to $75.
— Alex Weir
Martin Short is a pure original, and we should thank Canada for producing him. (Actually we should thank Canada for many other felicities as well — ice hockey and Rush to name only two.) The glory of comedy is its offer of total liberation from the usual soul-oppressors: ego, vanity, self-importance and, worst of all, the need to be seen as cool at all times. Comedy levels the playing field; it delivers the ultimate democratic smackdown and keeps us healthily humble. Though it's routinely looked down upon as a poor cousin to the more sober and putatively sophisticated of the other performing arts, good comics keep an already only half-sane world from going completely insane and thus could be viewed as great humanitarians. And if there were a Nobel awarded for the art form, Martin Short should be among the first to win it. In a long career spanning well over 30 years, Short has gifted us with a superior comedic mind of sublime nuttiness and freewheeling gonzo invention; who else could've created characters as perfect as Nathan Thurm and Irving Cohen? Experience this true original at 8 p.m. Saturday, September 14, at An Evening With Martin Short, in the J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts at Lindenwood University (2300 West Clay Street, St. Charles; 636-949-4433 or www.linenwood.edu/center). Tickets are $48.50 to $68.50.
— Alex Weir
Some comics are slow-burners, reeling you into the punch line through sleight of hand and verbal subterfuge. Lewis Black is your Fourth of July finale, blowing up his whole stock of fireworks right from the beginning. The master of the rant, Black sets his sights on the stupid, the vain and the hypocritical, and then blasts them to smithereens with his piquant (and loud) blend of common sense and vitriol. It's a hoot to watch and cathartic as hell. Black lights up the idiots of the world at 8 p.m. Friday, October 4, at the Peabody Opera House (1400 Market Street; 314-499-7600 or www.peabodyoperahouse.com). Tickets are $36.50 to $72.
— Paul Friswold
New Dance Rising
Last year, Dance St. Louis commissioned four noted choreographers to create new pieces especially for local dance companies. That experiment was such a success that the partnership returns this year, with new choreographers and new ensembles for PNC Arts Alive New Dance Horizons II. This year features matchups between Uri Sands and Common Thread Contemporary Dance Company, Nejla Yatkin and Leverage Dance Theater, Pilobolus and MADCO, and Emery LeCrone with Saint Louis Ballet. This quartet of new dance and new faces is unveiled at 8 p.m. Friday and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday (October 4 and 5) at the Touhill Performing Arts Center on the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus (University Drive at Natural Bridge Road; 314-516-4949 or www.touhill.org. Tickets are $30.
— Paul Friswold
St. Louisans are pretty well served with classical music. We're fortunate enough to have one of the country's top-tier orchestras doing its thing at Powell Hall on a regular basis (and taking said thing on the road around the U.S. and abroad — the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra is highly regarded internationally). In addition, there is a coterie of excellent string quartets, chamber music ensembles and choral societies active in the metro area. We can also boast the resources of our various local colleges' and universities' music departments. As an example you can hear the UMSL University Symphony Orchestra in its debut concert of the new season when it performs the Jubilee Symphony. Barbara Harbach is a professor in the school's music faculty, and she composed the piece on commission by the university to celebrate its 50th anniversary. The orchestra will also perform Beethoven's Symphony No. 2. Performance time is 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, October 9, at the Touhill Performing Arts Center on the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus (University Drive at Natural Bridge Road; 314-516-4949 or www.touhill.org). The concert is free and open to the general public.
— Alex Weir
The Golden Heard
Mongolia suffered greatly under the Chinese government's rule. Its culture and history was oppressed to the point that there's a current generation of young Mongolians who know nothing of their own language or culture. Recognizing what's at stake for their heritage if their past is lost, some Mongolians are fighting to recover the soul of their country through music. AnDa Union is helping to lead this revival. These young Mongolians recover, relearn and preserve the traditional songs of the many ethnicities that compose Mongolia, and they also create a new tradition of Mongolian folk music. Playing horsehead fiddles, the three-holed flute, mouth harps and the Mongolian version of the lute, the members of AnDa Union can sound like a herd of horses thundering across endless steppes or slip into the Scorpions' "Rock You Like a Hurricane." AnDa Union brings its homeland to St. Louis at 7 p.m. Sunday, October 20, at the Edison Theatre on Washington University's campus (6445 Forsyth Boulevard; 314-935-6543 or www.edisontheatre.wustl.edu). Tickets are $20 to $36.
— Paul Friswold
Flora No More
The human love of — and need for — living green organisms is well documented and long-established; it's confirmed in countless examples from folklore and art, and now science and medicine. The eminent Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson (read him if you haven't!) coined the perfect term for this innate feeling within us: "biophilia." Medical studies have shown that a patient recovering from major surgery will heal much faster if their hospital-room window has a view of trees outside, as opposed to one of just a blank wall or some other inorganic structure. We are enmeshed in nature's bio-web ourselves and cannot thrive if we're torn from it. Now imagine a bleak future stripped of botanical life. Not a pleasant scenario, but that's the educational one The Very Last Green Thing posits. This opera for children in grades two through eight is set in the year 2413 and is about a group of school kids who are raised and taught by an android. On a rare field trip outdoors one of them makes a weird and life-changing surprise discovery: the last surviving green organism on earth. The Very Last Green Thing is presented by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis at the Touhill Performing Arts Center on the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus (University Drive at Natural Bridge Road; 314-516-4949 or www.touhill.org). It's performed at 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Saturday, October 26. Tickets are $10 to $12.
— Alex Weir
Soundtrack for A New World
Water in all its facets — flowing, pooling, astonishing us in violent plummets over mountain falls, rearing up to form colossal waves or just serenely still — moves us profoundly and always has. It's one of the most universal of human impulses: to make art inspired by water, that elemental necessity. Musicians of course employ water as a muse. You can hear it in rock songs such as Hot Tuna's evergreen instrumental "Water Song," or the Doobie Brothers' lovely ode to the Mississippi, "Black Water." You can chart that channel's run through numberless folk, blues and country standards. And you can certainly hear it in the grand concert hall, as classical composers from the earliest periods have written great works hymning water's hold on our psyches. Our own Saint Louis Symphony's assistant principal viola player, Christian Woehr, continues the tradition with his Water Worlds, A Musical Journey. This concert at the James S. McDonnell Planetarium (Clayton and Faulkner drives; 314-289-4400 or www.slsc.org) is performed by the Strings of Arda in association with the Saint Louis Science Center on Monday, November 4, and will feature visuals synched up to the music of three world-premiere pieces composed by Woehr. The material is inspired by the search for life in the wet worlds of the universe. The 7 p.m. event is free but reservations are very much recommended; additionally, the program is intended only for adults.
— Alex Weir
On the Wings of Love
Romeo and Juliet may be the Western world's standard for star-crossed lovers, but they're not the sole example of beautiful people meeting ugly ends in the name of love. In China, the tale of the Butterfly Lovers is just as familiar and just as tragic. Zhu is a young woman who disguises herself as a boy to attend school, and ends up falling in love with her fellow pupil, Liang. Zhu is already betrothed to the violently jealous Ma, who slays Liang when the young student confesses his feelings for Zhu. Zhu then goes full-Juliet, killing herself to spend eternity with her dead paramour. There's more of a happy ending here, as Liang and Zhu are reunited as butterflies in the afterlife. The Shanghai Ballet presents this bittersweet tale of love and loss at 8 p.m. Friday, and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday (November 8 and 9), at the Touhill Performing Arts Center on the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus (University Drive at Natural Bridge Road; 314-516-4949 or www.touhill.org). Tickets are $35 to $45.
— Paul Friswold