Out & About: Carrie Underwood steers into Portland

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One of the biggest stars in country music is motoring toward the Cumberland County Civic Center, and it’s a concert I don’t intend to miss. Multiple-platinum-selling and multi-award-winning singer Carrie Underwood stops her national tour for one performance on Monday, March 15.

The next evening the St. Lawrence String Quartet plays Hannaford Hall on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus. This fabulous classical foursome celebrates 20 years together on this tour.

Two fine works of theater opened last weekend and will continue for a couple more weeks. On the comedy side, Good Theater’s outstanding professional production of “The Importance of Being Earnest” is a real laugher.

On the flip side, “Yours, Anne,” the current offering at the Old Port Playhouse, is a very somber, very moving musical treatment of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” one of the most important literary works of the mid-20th century. Old Port Playhouse is Portland’s newest professional theater, and with productions like this one, it’s sure to make a mark.

Carrie Underwood

Country singer Carrie Underwood turns 27 years old March 10 and already this extraordinary artist has amassed a record of achievement that would fill several ordinary lifetimes.

The Muskogee, Okla., native started singing as a child in her local church, then burst onto the national music scene in 2005 when she won the “American Idol” competition. Within a few months of that achievement, Underwood released the first of three consecutive albums to go platinum.

Titled “Some Hearts,” that debut album highlighted her clear soprano voice, her passionate delivery and her unparalleled choice of material, provided by Nashville’s top songwriters.

Three of the songs from “Some Hearts” topped the country singles charts: “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” “Wasted” and “Before He Cheats.” The album also won her a Grammy Award for Best New Artist and a slew of other honors from groups such as the Academy of Country Music, Country Music Association and the Gospel Music Association.

That was followed in 2007 by “Carnival Ride,” which won her a second Grammy, for best Female Country Recording Artist, and last year she released “Play On,” her third album. “Play On” has already been certified platinum and has been nominated for a number of awards.

A few days ago Underwood hopped on a bus for an 11-week national tour in support of “Play On.” She stops at the Cumberland County Civic Center March 15.

Underwood has extended her popular reach beyond traditional Nashville audiences by performing the national anthem at many high-profile sports events, such as a Red Sox World Series game and a Super Bowl.

Other honors include membership in the Grand Ole Opry (she’s currently the youngest inductee) and World’s Sexiest Vegetarian by People for Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Catch this incredible artist in concert at 7:30 p.m. March 15 at the Cumberland County Civic Center. Call the CCCC at 775-3458 or go to TicketMaster.

St. Lawrence String Quartet

Portland Ovations’ upcoming classical offering is familiar to Maine audiences. The St. Lawrence String Quartet is a summer artistic resident at Bay Chamber Concerts in Rockport.

Although the foursome originated in Canada and their first big breakthrough was winning the 1992 Banff International String Quartet Competition, violinists Geoff Nuttall and Scott St. John plus violist Lesley Robertson and cellist Christopher Costanza are globetrotting performing and recording artists with a worldwide reputation.

The St. Lawrence String Quartet performs more than 100 times per year, and enjoy annual residencies at Stanford University and the Spoleto USA Festival in Charleston, S.C. They also make frequent tours of Europe and Asia. In addition to performing the established repertoire of string quartets, they’ve premiered many new works.

Catch this concert at 7:30 p.m. March 16 at Hannaford Hall in the Abromson Community Education Center, on Bedford Street on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

‘The Importance of Being Earnest’

For its late-winter offering, Good Theater has chosen one of the funniest plays ever written, a classical English Victorian comedy of manners from the 19th century: “The Importance of Being Earnest” is Oscar Wilde’s best-remembered play, which is still frequently produced. Good Theater’s professional production is the best I’ve ever seen.

Like many farces, “The Importance of Being Earnest” revolves around two men who are leading double lives, and a myriad comic complications naturally ensue and ultimately ensnare them. Wilde’s characters are wonderfully delicious practitioners of the art of deception, a pair of wealthy aristocrats who dodge boring relatives and duck social obligations.

Their love interests are a pair of extremely attractive young ladies of noble birth. One is a sophisticated London socialite with an overbearing mother, while the other is a wispy little blonde from the country.

Director Brian P. Allen has assembled a topnotch cast and helms this show with polish and confidence. Also notable are the beautiful sets, by Janet Montgomery and Steve Underwood, and the costuming, by Maine State Music Theatre’s rental division.

Good Theater presents “The Importance of Being Earnest” through March 28 at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St. (top of Munjoy Hill). Call Good Theater at 885-5883.

‘Yours, Anne’

Old Port Playhouse, Portland’s newest professional theater, aims to make a mark on Maine’s cultural scene. One of the milestones on that quest is the current production, a serious and somber musical adaptation of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” an indirect depiction of the horrors of German Nazi occupation during World War II.

I saw the show opening night last weekend, and I was profoundly moved by the experience.

Published in 1952, the diary has been named to several lists of the most important literary works of the 20th century. The libretto, by Enid Futterman, uses the original diary as the basis for a powerful dramatic work that captures the intensely claustrophobic experiences of eight Jews hiding for two years from the Germans in Nazi-occupied Holland.

The two dozen songs, with music by Michael Cohen, remain totally true to the frightening artistic content; they also reveal moments of humor and the all-too-human foibles of the doomed group.

When I spoke with him after the show, director Michael J. Tobin said that “Yours, Anne” was the most difficult show he’d done in his 29-year professional career. He also noted several areas of controversy about this production, including objections from a local rabbi. He also pointed out recurring instances of anti-Semitism in Maine, including the recent desecration of a Jewish cemetery in Portland.

Old Port Playhouse, 19 Temple St. in Portland, presents “Yours, Anne” through March 28. Call 773-0333.

Sidebar Elements

Carrie Underwood is one of Nashville’s hottest singers, a multi-platinum-selling artist who will visit the Cumberland County Civic Center on March 15.