Carpenters Christmas

Karen and Richard Carpenter didn’t have the loudest sound on the radio dial when they emerged on the scene, but the brother-sister duo cut one of the biggest swarthy paths on the musical landscape, creating a lasting impact that continues to this day.
Heavy metal found success on mainstream radio in the ’70s and ’80s, but those artists had to share the pop-rock charts with the siblings who took their music in a somewhat quieter direction.
The Carpenters’ churned out hit song after hit song, and their music wasn’t just at the top of the charts, their music was a pivotal part of people’s personal lives.
“We’ve Only Just Begun” was the graduation anthem for kids all over the country. That song was played at wedding receptions, as were many of the Carpenters’ ballads like “Close To You,” throughout the years.
For 14 years, their distinctive soft musical style broke records. With Richard as the creative force behind their sound as an accomplished keyboard player, composer and arranger and Karen’s rich, soulful, lilting melodic vocals, they had a run of hit recordings on the American Top 40 and Adult Contemporary charts, making them the leading sellers in the soft rock, easy listening and adult contemporary genres, at a time when contemporary music was dominated by heavy guitar riffs and pounding drum beats.
Their smooth harmonies were not in step with the trends of the day, however, the Carpenters had three No. 1 singles and five No. 2 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 and 15 No. 1 hits on the Adult Contemporary chart. They also had 12 Top 10 singles.
That all ended with Karen’s passing in 1983.
However, their music continues to live on in a popular holiday-themed tribute show returning to Laughlin.
Producer Mark Brett and his wife Michelle Berting Brett brought both of their shows “We’ve Only Just Begun” —Carpenters Remembered,” and “Merry Christmas, Darling,” to the Riverside Resort for the first time a couple years ago. The show packed an emotional and powerful punch that was both respectful and classy.
The shows were met with high marks so the duo is bringing back “Merry Christmas, Darling – A Carpenter’s Holiday Show” to Don’s Celebrity Theatre stage Wednesday-Sunday, Nov. 28-Dec. 2.
Once again, we talked with Michelle Berting Brett about the Carpenters, the music, and the show they bring to town this time. Here’s her take…

How are things with the show these days?
We’ve been really busy. We’re home in Connecticut for a few days and we’re supposed to get snow. When that snow starts flying, we’ll be even more excited to be coming to Laughlin.
It’s been kind of a neat year because some really cool things are happening next year. I don’t know if you know this, but 2019 is the 50th anniversary of Karen and Richard’s first album with A&M Records. So it’s going to be an exciting year. We are going to be the centerpiece of an international convention of Carpenters’ fans in southern California.
We’re going to be doing a show in Downy, Karen and Richard’s home town, so that is really exciting for us. Plus, something really cool has happened, Richard Carpenter has gone back into the studio with the Royal Philharmonic and he is releasing an album on December 7, of the Carpenters with the Royal Philharmonic.
This new album for the Carpenters is really exciting and of course, it’s perfectly in time for Christmas, but also it’s going to capitalize on the excitement of the 50th anniversary. We’re not actually in touch with Richard, although we hear all of the rumors and the gossip and all of it, but I wonder what is possibly up his sleeve for next year.
We’ve been traveling across the country as usual, performing to Carpenters’ fans, young and old, just enjoying what we do.
As always, we’re really happy to be coming back to Laughlin. We’ve had two engagements there, and we’re really excited to be returning once again. It’s a good vibe there. We have a really nice community of people that have supported us there.

What’s new with the show this time?
We’ve got a few little additions we do. Of course, we’ve got some new Christmas stuff that we’ve added, and we do have the biggest hits. Last year we added this ’60s medley which we’ll do again because it was such a big hit. Audiences were really cheering afterwards, so we’re keeping that baby in there. We’ll always try to mix it up a little bit, add something new and keep the favorites in there. But definitely it will be Christmas and all those hits that everyone loves so well from the Carpenters.

Who’s in the band this time?
We’re bringing our wonderful seven-piece band. Our music is directed by Harry Sharpe and Harry was the music director for artists like Donna Summer, Wynonna Judd, Tanya Tucker, Olivia Newton John, Heart and so many great artists. So he’s at the helm, and plays keyboards. Our background singer for our Laughlin dates was with us sort of at the beginning when we made our Vegas debut. She’s a beautiful singer, Texas girl, and just a great personality and really fun. Her name is Kristi Grider. We’ve got a new bass player coming in, but he’s also somebody who was with us in the early days who’s coming back. He’s been on the road with Billy Ray Cyrus and his name is Scott Trayer.
Then there is our wonderful piano player who’s been with us for the past few years. He’s a young man but just an incredible talent and his name is David Lukens. Randy Schmitt who wrote the book “Little Girl Blue, the Life of Karen Carpenter,” came to see our show in Pennsylvania this year and afterward, he said he just loved the show (what Carpenters’ fan doesn’t right?) but he made particular mention of David’s playing. He really does invoke Richard’s feel on the keys.
Matt Berry is our guitarist who does a brilliant job of bringing those iconic guitar solos, particularly in songs like “Goodbye to Love,” back to life. He’s worked with John Michael Montgomery and Tiffany.
Ryan Latham is our tenor and soprano sax and flute player. He’s especially busy in the Christmas show with all of the orchestral embellishments and those iconic solos on songs like “Merry Christmas, Darling.”
And of course, there’s George Perilli, our wonderful drummer, and would you believe, when he started his career, one of his very first gigs he ever did was playing in Las Vegas with Lola Falana. In the ’70s she was the toast of Las Vegas. From there he’s just played with everybody — Reba McEntire, Michael McDonald, Christopher Cross, Bobby Caldwell, and Maureen McGovern.
I always like to mention our producer and my husband, Mark Brett, my tireless, fearless support who just continues to keep making the calls and getting us work. He’s my champion. He puts in so much effort into promoting our shows and creating new opportunities for us. We would never be where we are without him.

You seem to set a lot of store by your musicians, not all artists do that.
When people come to see the show — I just know this from being an audience member myself — of course you’re listening to the lead singer, and listening to the stories and everything, but you’re also watching and getting to know all the other people on stage, and you’re interested in them, right? It’s great that you’re letting people know what we’ve got going on, on the stage with us. That’s the thing — Karen and Richard’s music was so beautiful, but it was also very complex, so you really need to have a certain type of standard in terms of the musicianship on stage and we’ve been so fortunate just to have such great players working with us. I’m a lucky girl.

What is your personal favorite song to sing?
Oh my gosh, I’d say one of my very favorites in the Christmas show to sing is “Do You Hear What I Hear.” It’s such a great arrangement. Richard just outdid himself with that arrangement because it builds so beautifully. It’s such a beautiful message — Christ being born. One of the things we added last year, was “Ave Maria,” and it’s a song that is so sacred and so beautiful, but I just wasn’t sure how it would work in the show. However, over the years, we’ve had so many people request it, that we finally conceded and decided to add— so glad that we did. I mean, even performing the show in open air casino theaters, where you’ve got slot machines ringing and all of the distractions, the reaction to that song and how people appreciate it, is just second to none. It’s been wonderful to perform that song in a Christmas show, and I really, really enjoy it and again, that’s David’s playing. That beautiful classical accompaniment on the piano is just gorgeous.

People also seem to have a personal connection to the songs.
The cool thing, too, because the Carpenters’ music does have that emotional element — and because so many people had these songs as their wedding songs or their graduation themes and different things like that — everybody has so many wonderful stories associated with their songs. We always have people coming up to us after the shows with their wonderful stories. For many people Carpenters’ music is like a balm for the soul. You hear these songs and they bring back good memories, and about family, loved ones, relationships ­— it’s pretty cool.
We hear the most amazing stories. People will tell us about having dated someone when they were in high school and reconnecting many years later and then they’ll be at the concert, right? “This was our song and here we are,” they’ll say. I always love those stories.


MERRY CHRISTMAS, DARLING

Don’s Celebrity Theatre within the Riverside

Wednesday-Sunday, Nov. 28-Dec. 2 (7 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for ticket info