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"Chicago" opens at The Rep, Sumokem at South on Main, ASO plays "Ode to Joy" and more 

And much more.

click to enlarge Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn - JIM MCGUIRE
  • Jim McGuire
  • Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn
BELA FLECK AND ABIGAIL WASHBURN
SATURDAY 2/2 | 7:30 p.m | UA Pulaski Tech, Center for Humanities and Arts (CHARTS) | $35-$120.

Just when you'd written off the banjo as the laughingstock of the stringed world, spousal duo Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn swoop in with a flurry of 16th notes, a captivating story and a rapturous melody to prove you dead wrong. See: last May's NPR Tiny Desk Concert. Then in the penultimate month of her pregnancy with Theodore Wilder Washburn Fleck, Washburn broke such a 16th-note flurry from Fleck, leaning back to wail an outcry in "Over the Divide," the duo's homage to a Jewish yodeling Austrian sheep herder who drove fleeing Syrians across the Austro-Hungarian border at the height of the refugee crisis. That tune is part of "Echo in the Valley," the pair's latest collaboration, from which this North Little Rock concert will undoubtedly sample. Fleck's 15 Grammys are probably testament enough to what happens when he's on stage, but when his Earl Scruggs style overlays Washburn's voice and acclaimed frailing, "the banjos seem to sparkle with one another," as Fleck told Canadian musician/broadcaster Tom Power in 2017. SS
click to enlarge Sumokem - GRAYSON SHELTON
  • Grayson Shelton
  • Sumokem
SUMOKEM, THE LIGHTS INSIDE THE WOODS
WEDNESDAY 2/6 | 8 p.m. | South on Main. $6.

This bill at South on Main is manyfold: It's a pairing of the new and the not-so-new guard of the Little Rock metal scene, one that's garnering increasing acclaim outside The Natural State. It's a musical testament to the love affairs that heavy music has carried on for years — with horror cinema, with mythology, with psychedelia. It's also a chance to hear Sumokem and Jeff Morgan (of Rwake) cushioned by luxuries that heavy music-makers aren't universally afforded: stellar sound engineering, a start time moms and dads can endorse, steamed mussels and a Willamette Valley Pinot Blanc for purchase. If you missed Morgan's one-man experiment in sight and sound, "The Lights Inside the Woods," in its past iterations, take note: Neither he nor doom rockers Sumokem play nearly enough to sate their devotees. Screen-printed event posters await the first 20 in attendance. SS
click to enlarge CRYSTAL BRIDGES: ROCHELLE AND DARREN LEININGER FAMILY COLLECTION
  • Crystal Bridges: Rochelle and Darren Leininger Family Collection
'MEN OF STEEL, WOMEN OF WONDER'
2/9-4/22 | Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville. $12 nonmembers | free to members.

Truth, Justice and the American Way are taking a beating right now, but art may help us survive the sorry state we find ourselves in. Enter Superman and Wonder Woman at Crystal Bridges, in versions that offer both amusement and chagrin in their commentary on the US of A. Museum assistant curator Alejo Benedetti pulled together more than 70 works —  paintings, photographs, installations, videos — inspired by the superhero archetype, which has permeated our apparently rescue-hungry popular culture of late. The works — among them a painting of a wholesome Wonder Woman from female-form-loving pop artist Mel Ramos (left); the surreal cartoon "Superman Versus the Toilet Duck" by Peter Saul; and William Pope.L's video "The Great White Way," a piece in which the African-American performance artist comments on racism by crawling up a filthy Broadway sidewalk in New York dressed in a Superman costume — should produce reactions ranging from wry to painful. That's art's job. Artists Fahamu Pecou and Aphrodite Navab will give a talk at the opening reception, 7 p.m. Feb. 9, and other programs, which can be found listed at crystalbridges.org, will complement the exhibit. LNP'
click to enlarge Kevin Clay - JULIETA CERVANTES
  • Julieta Cervantes
  • Kevin Clay
'THE BOOK OF MORMON'
2/12-2/17 | Robinson Performance Hall. $35-$138.

For 20 years, Trey Parker and Matt Stone's dick-joke-turned-animation-empire "South Park" lewdly lampooned religion with inflammatory satire. What's more, it did so in equal measure: Mohammed, the Virgin Mary, Scientology, contemporary Christian rock and atheism all came under fire. There is an episode in which the Buddha snorts cocaine, and that arguably doesn't even approach the apex of the show's subversive bent. Imagine the surprise of fans and haters alike, then, when Parker and Stone's post-"Team America: World Police" venture was hailed roundly as "sweet" and "full of heart." The New York Times' glowing 2011 review from Ben Brantley began with a salutation: "This is to all the doubters and deniers out there, the ones who say that heaven on Broadway does not exist." Sure, the show's laced with smut and profanity, but what Parker and Stone did with "The Book of Mormon" — with an assist from Robert Lopez of "Avenue Q" fame — was to take the same contradictions of human behavior that "South Park" badgered and wrap them up in a warm, vaudevillian embrace. This touring Broadway production stars Liam Tobin (who worked with Parker on "Cannibal: The Musical") as Elder Price, Connor Peirson as Elder Cunningham and Kayla Pecchioni as Nabulungi. For tickets and performance times, see celebrityattractions.com. SS
click to enlarge Brasil Guitar Duo
  • Brasil Guitar Duo
BRASIL GUITAR DUO
THURSDAY 2/14 | 7:30 p.m. | Christ Episcopal Church. $25

In chamber music, venue choice is paramount. Too resonant, and the sound can echo back upon itself, muddying things up. Too dry, and even the most shimmering vibrato can fall a little flat. Count the Chamber Music Society of Little Rock as a group with a knack for bringing mesmerizing talent to the area and matching it with spaces that suit the respective sounds. This time around, it's a 180-year-old church paired with João Luiz and Douglas Lora, the two halves of the Brasil Guitar Duo. Luiz and Lora have been duetting for over 20 years, since they were teenagers in Sao Pãolo, and it shows. Here, they'll perform works by Jean-Philippe Rameau and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco; works by living composers Frederic Hand and Egberto Gismonti; and Cuban composer Leo Brouwer's alternately serene and turbulent "Sonata de Los Viajeros," a 25-minute piece that scored Brouwer a Latin Grammy in 2016. A reception follows the performance, with complimentary wine and appetizers from, fittingly, Cafe Bossa Nova. Admission for students of all ages and for children is free. See chambermusiclr.com for tickets. SS
click to enlarge The McCrary Sisters
  • The McCrary Sisters
THE McCRARY SISTERS
FRIDAY 2/15 | 7:30 p.m. | Fowler Center Arkansas State University, Jonesboro | $25-$35.

Sisters Beverly Ann, Deborah Dianne, Regina Avonette and Alfreda Antionette McCrary have been known to perform "Amazing Grace" in the same set as Sly & The Family Stone's "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" and James Brown's "Gonna Have a Funky Good Time," and that combination is as apt a snapshot of the quartet's energy as any written biography. Mimicking their father, Rev. Sam McCrary — a founding member of a cappella pioneers The Fairfield Four — until they were old enough to form their own gospel outfit, the McCrary Sisters built a career out of making music that elevates: half-praise, half-boogie. They appear at Arkansas State University's Fowler Center as part of the Riceland Performance Series. Get tickets at fowler.astate.edu. SS
click to enlarge John Hiatt & Lyle Lovett - SMG ENTERTAINMENT
  • SMG Entertainment
  • John Hiatt & Lyle Lovett
LYLE LOVETT & JOHN HIATT
SUNDAY 2/17 | 8 p.m. First Financial Music Hall | Murphy Arts District El Dorado | $55-$110.

Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt — two songwriting sages who were making Americana music before it was called that — go way back. The two guitarists have, of course, fronted their own expansive outfits. Hiatt's backing band (featuring no less than Nick Lowe and Ry Cooder) turned into the short-lived group Little Village, and Hiatt's been covered by everyone from Willie Nelson to Iggy Pop with lots in between, all the while developing an agglomeration of esteemed records — the last several of which are on Nashville's New West, a label that's welcomed Hiatt's daughter Lilly. Then there's Lovett — perpetual class clown, Texas swing advocate and sometimes movie actor. Here, the two return to a songwriter's circle format — strictly acoustic, no frills — a stage environment they've shared more than a few times in their careers. They're also playing The Auditorium in Eureka Springs Feb. 15, but that concert is sold out. Get tickets for Sunday's concert at eldomad.com. SS'
click to enlarge ARKANSAS REPERTORY THEATRE
  • Arkansas Repertory Theatre
'CHICAGO'
2/22-3/24 | Arkansas Repertory Theatre | $58.

When bamboozling lawyer Billy Flynn sings "Give 'em an act with lots of flash in it, and the reaction will be passionate" on the stage at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre in February, those lines are likely to do a little bit of fourth-wall breaking. Flash and panache — of which Bob Fosse/John Kander/Fred Ebbs' 1975 confection of a musical possesses by the boatload — are exactly what the occasion calls for: "Chicago" marks the professional theater's reopening after a year in which a financial crisis forced its hiatus, and in which its widely beloved founding father, Cliff Fannin Baker, suffered a brain aneurysm and died. That said, the reaction from the theater-loving Central Arkansas community to this Jazz Age-mounted jewel will likely be all the more passionate for the wait. Fitting, too, to The Rep's triumphant return to the stage: longtime resident Rep choreographer Ron Hutchins directs and choreographs. Performances are 7 p.m. Wed.-Thu., 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sun., and additional Saturday matinee performances are scheduled for Feb. 23, March 16 and March 23. Get tickets at therep.org. SS
click to enlarge Arkansas Symphony Orchestra - KELLY HICKS PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Kelly Hicks Photography
  • Arkansas Symphony Orchestra
'ODE TO JOY'
SATURDAY 2/23 | 7:30 p.m. | SUNDAY 2/24 | 3 p.m. | Robinson Performance Hall | $16-$68.

It would take him about 30 years to finally do it, but Beethoven is said to have known he'd write music for Friedrich Schiller's "Ode to Joy" as soon as he read it in 1793. It would be his last complete symphony, and would cement his place in history as the first major composer to use voices in an orchestral symphony. Its highs are unbelievably high: galloping three-beat patterns, gigantic expressions of triumph befitting the text from which it sprung: "Be embraced, Millions! This kiss to all the world! Brothers, above the starry canopy, there must dwell a loving Father. Are you collapsing, millions? Do you sense the creator, world?" (EDM DJs, where y'at with some bass-forward remixes?) The audience went berserk, applauding during the middle sections and giving five standing ovations. Beethoven was, by this time, too deaf to hear them, but was turned around by his colleagues on stage so that he could see the elation he'd inspired. The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra performs the august work in partnership with the Central Arkansas Library System, who with the ASO selected several spoken word performers to take the stage and read pieces themed on joy, unity and hope as part of the concert. Get tickets at arkansassymphony.org. SS
click to enlarge LYNDA BLACKMON LOWERY
  • Lynda Blackmon Lowery

'TURNING 15 ON THE ROAD TO FREEDOM'
SATURDAY 2/26 | 7:30 p.m. UA Pulaski Tech | Center for the Humanities and Arts | $15-$50.

Lynda Blackmon Lowery still has a scar on the back of her head. It originated, as she recalled in a 2015 interview with NPR, at the hand of an Alabama state trooper on the now-legendary "Bloody Sunday" in 1965, when Lowery joined hundreds of others that year marching from Selma to Montgomery in the name of voting rights for people of color. Now recognized as the youngest person on the march — she was 14 at the time — her story has been turned into a one-woman play with a gospel backing ensemble, "Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom." With a stage adaptation by Ally Sheedy ("The Breakfast Club," "St. Elmo's Fire") and direction by Fracaswell Hyman, lead actress Damaras Obi plays Lowery in this touring performance. A talk by the real-life Lowery follows. For tickets, visit uaptc.edu/turning15. SS

'NEWSIES'
2/27-3/9 | Argenta Community Theater | $30.

On paper, Disney's 1992 live-action musical "Newsies" sounds uncannily contemporary: fights for the independence of the press, working-class people pushed to the brink, corporations willing to forgo fair practices for the sake of the P&L statement. The film's subject matter, though, springs from the Newsboys' Strike of 1899, when an alliance of young newspaper hawkers brought Brooklyn Bridge traffic to a standstill for days in protest of unfair compensation for their work. In 2011, "Newsies" became a stage musical — one with a notoriously fierce dance book — and that's the iteration next up at the Argenta Community Theater, with choreography from Moriah Patterson, music from Michael Heavner, direction from ACT founder Vincent Insalaco and a cast of local all-stars from the community theater scene: Will Porter, James Norris, Jackson Karl, Caleb Allen, Corbin Pitts (with a new "True Detective" credit on his resume), Annslee Clay and Laura Grimes. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 2 p.m. Sun.; see argentacommunitytheater.com for tickets. SS
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