Scotiabank Place, Ottawa - March 24, 2010

DENIS ARMSTRONG - QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:46 AM ET

OTTAWA - It looks like Carrie Underwood has a stage show as big as American Idol's.

The Grammy Award-winning country singer made a spectacular return to Scotiabank Place last night for an eagerly anticipated stop on her current Play On tour, and I have to admit, the girl's come a long way since she was last here in March 2008. The night she first met her fiance, Senators' centre Mike Fisher.

And No. 12 was there again, only Wednesday night he was sitting in the front row with friends and family members.

Everything about Underwood's new show seemed a lot bigger, from the stunning staging that looked like she'd plucked it off a movie set. To describe the show as theatrical is something of an understatement. It seems that just about every song had a visual storyline that Underwood carefully played out.

Wearing a sexy tuxedo, Underwood stood tall as the hydraulic turntable lifted her into the spotlight centrestage while her six-piece band started cooking up a saucy, swaggering take of Cowboy Casanova. Then, the four-screen backdrop turned into a slot machine for one of Underwood's better songs, Quitter.

"Hello Ottawa, I guess I can consider this a hometown crowd," Underwood said to a huge round of cheers before launching into Wasted, and the soaring love song I Know You Won't which got its own carnival-themed visuals to heighten the moment.

By the time she was into Some Hearts, the scene changed into vintage deep south, with an old plantation house in the background and Underwood, wearing a big country dress, swinging from a tree.

She let that image linger long and hard during Temporary Home, her song about abused women. This is high drama, I thought, something you don't normally associate with country music. Broadway perhaps, or Cirque de Soleil. It seems that Underwood's becoming country music's version of Celine Dion.

A quick costume change and Carrie was off in another direction, call this Americana, with wheat fields and Underwood in street clothes for Someday When I Stop Loving You, All American Girl and So Small.

The most spectacular moment came at the midpoint when she sang John Denver's Take Me Home, Country Roads from the back of a blue pickup truck suspended as high as the 200-level seats.

Its licence plates? CULV12.

Cute.

"I'm on a flying truck. How do you travel?"

Once back on earth, our glammed and sequined star played it straight for her first No. 1 hit Jesus Take the Wheel and How Great Thou Art before bringing the Sons of Sylvia, who opened the concert, back out for a duet of What Can I Say.

Why she changed into a cone-shaped gown that looked like it was going at warp speed -- blurring star lights -- for Change I don't know, other than it looked cool.

For all her showmanship, Underwood's performance broke down a little throughout the show, whether it was a case of nerves -- this was a special evening for her after all -- or just working at her limits, she tested her vocal range beyond what would be considered comfortable.

She's also a little stiff when not playing a role, which might explain all the costume changes and set pieces.

By deadline, she was into her Grand Ole Opry set, dueting with Randy Travis on video on I Told You So and still no trace of her Senators No. 12 jersey, though she did finish the song laughing a little to herself, admitting to the 8,400, "I love Mike Fisher" before doing Mama's Song at a spinning grand piano.

As spectacular as Underwood's Play On concert was, there was almost too much going on for a singer with a voice as big as Underwood's. But for this American Idol winner, country's gone big time, especially when it's your second home with your fiance sitting in the front row.

THE SET LIST

Cowboy Casanova

Quitter

Wasted

I Know You Won't

Some Hearts

Just a Dream

Temporary Home

Someday When I Stop Loving You

All-American Girl

So Small

Take Me Home, Country Roads

This Time

Undo It

Jesus, Take the Wheel

How Great Thou Art

What Can I Say

Change

I Told You So

Mama's Song

Last Name

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