Out & About: Evenings with 2 top award winners

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Want to spend an evening with a four-time Grammy Award winner? Or how about an evening with a Tony honoree? Both are happening on consecutive nights this weekend at Portland’s Merrill Auditorium.

On Friday it’s “An Evening with Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen,” a pair of country singers who hail from Texas. Although they have been friends since college, they have mostly pursued independent careers in music.

On Saturday, Portland Ovations opens its 2016-2017 season with “An Intimate Evening with Kristin Chenoweth,” an actress who has both a Tony Award and an Emmy in her personal trophy case.

Dar Williams is marking the 20th anniversary of her landmark “Mortal City” album with a national tour that visits One Longfellow Square on Saturday.

Broadway musicals with multiple murders? They are almost non-existent, but “Bonnie and Clyde: The Musical” is a rare exception. To open its 86th season, Portland Players is running a fine community production in South Portland.

Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen

Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen are a pair of country singer-songwriters from Texas who’ve been friends since they were classmates in college in the 1970s.

Although Lovett and Keen have mostly followed independent careers, they have collaborated on a number of occasions. For starters, they co-wrote “The Front Porch Song,” which is a fond recollection of the days they spent singing together on the front porch of a rented house during their college days.

Second, they sometimes perform together. The current joint show is titled “An Evening with Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen,” and the national tour rolls into Portland on Friday.

Lovett is the better known of the pair. He’s been writing and recording hits since the 1980s, releasing 14 albums and 25 singles to date. He’s collected a total of four Grammy Awards, most notably Best Country Album for 1996’s “The Road to Ensenada.”

Lovett has also appeared in more than a dozen films and television shows.

Keen has written and recorded 18 albums since the 1980s, and his songs have been covered by dozens of other artists, including the Dixie Chicks, Nanci Griffith and George Strait.

Catch “An Evening with Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen” at 8 p.m. Sept. 30 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Kristin Chenoweth

One of the brightest stars in Broadway’s brilliant firmament will visit Merrill Auditorium on Saturday, as Portland Ovations opens its 2016-2017 season with “An Intimate Evening with Kristin Chenoweth.”

Over the past 20 years, Chenoweth has starred in seven Broadway shows and an eighth is coming up soon. Her two highest honors include originating the role of Glinda in “Wicked,” which opened in 2003 and is still running, and playing Sally in the 1999 revival of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” which won her a Tony Award.

Chenoweth has also starred in several other classic revivals, including “On the Twentieth Century,” “Promises, Promises” and “The Apple Tree.” In six weeks, she’s booked for a return to the Great White Way in “My Love Letter to Broadway,” a limited-run special that will feature a retrospective collection of songs.

That’s what concert-goers can expect when Chenoweth appears at Merrill in a simple solo format with a piano accompanist. She will also likely draw from the 13-song repertoire featured on a CD she just released; “The Art of Elegance” comprises selections from the American Songbook.

Portland Ovations presents “An Intimate Evening with Kristin Chenoweth” at 8 p.m. Oct. 1 at Merrilll Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Dar Williams

Another singer-songwriter visiting Portland this weekend is Dar Williams, who has been living and recording in various towns in Massachusetts since the early 1990s. Williams’ venues are mostly coffeehouses, folk festivals and intimate music rooms, such as One Longfellow Square, where she’ll hold forth on Saturday.

Williams is one of the most prolific and successful artists of the small-venue singer-songwriter genre, with a string of 21 CDs, all on independent labels. One of her best efforts was “Mortal City,” which was released in 1996 and spawned two single releases – almost unheard-of among indie artists.

On this year’s touring schedule, Williams is celebrating the 20th anniversary of “Mortal City.” It’s also a celebration of her ongoing success as an indie.

“I’m now experiencing the fruits of the alternative culture I was part of in the ‘90s,” she says. “I think I’ve made choices about how I lived my life, outside of the world that was going to fit me among the mainstream norms, and I chose to stay with my friends, to stay with my culture.”

Catch Dar Williams at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland on Oct. 1. Two shows are scheduled: 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Call 761-1757.

‘Bonnie and Clyde: The Musical’

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were a pair of star-crossed lovers who criss-crossed the Midwest during the Great Depression, chasing a twisted vision of the American Dream using stolen cars and machine guns.

Their pathological romance, bloody trail of crime and their bullet-riddled demise were depicted in a top-rated Hollywood film in 1967. Somewhat less successfully, their notorious story has been adapted for the musical stage.

Despite its faults – which probably account for its short Broadway run – “Bonnie and Clyde: The Musical” is a fascinating show, and Portland Players is running a superb community production through Oct. 8.

The book, written by Ivan Menchell, starts with the childhood dreams of the pair, and it takes on an operatic quality as these dreams are fulfilled in such tragic and deadly fashion. The composer was Frank Wildhorn, working with lyricist Don Black.

The real-life criminals – including other gang members who traveled with Bonnie and Clyde – committed hundreds of small holdups, at least a dozen bank robberies and 12 murders. All this is greatly condensed in the musical.

Director Michael Donovan gets electrifying performances from his two leads, Joanna Clark and Joel Crowley, both of whom are experienced actors performing with Portland Players for the first time. Also worth kudos are Ryan Walker, playing Clyde’s brother, and Kelly Mosher, playing Clyde’s sister-in-law.

Although the show drags at points – the script’s fault – I found this to be a truly riveting experience.

Portland Players, 420 Cottage Road in South Portland, presents “Bonnie and Clyde: The Musical” through Oct. 8 with 7:30 p.m. performances Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Call 799-7337.

“An Intimate Evening with Kristin Chenoweth” is the opening act of Portland Ovations’ 2016-2017 season. Chenoweth, who appears on Oct. 1, has won a Tony Award and an Emmy.