Soft & Sweet

The 1970s and 1980s were punctuated by the heavy metal vibe finally making its way into the mainstream, but these bands climbing the music charts had to share space with a sibling duo making some big waves of their own.
Karen and Richard Carpenter took an entirely different musical approach.
Not only did this brother and sister team churn out hit song after hit song, their music was a pivotal part of people’s lives. “We’ve Only Just Begun” was a repeated theme for kids all over the country graduating from high school and college. 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 like no others. 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 bigger and heavier sounds.
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 lives on in a popular tribute show returning to Laughlin appropriately called “Carpenters Remembered. This show is the definitive celebration of the Carpenters’ legacy in words and music.
Producer Mark Brett and his wife Michelle Berting Brett joined forces to recreate a tribute that remembers Karen and Richard’s music and packs an emotional and powerful punch. With Mark behind the scenes and Michelle front and center, the show is both respectful and classy.
We talked with Michelle Berting Brett about the Carpenters, the music and the show they bring to town this time. Here’s her take…

What have you two been up to since the last time you were here?
We’ve had an exciting year. This year was the 50th anniversary of the Carpenters — with their signing with A&M Records and of their first album. So it’s a special year and we were the centerpiece of the celebrations in Southern California. They had a big international convention with participants from all over the world — from places like Iceland, Germany, Australia, England, all over the US and Canada. That was a thrill, and we were performing the show in Downey, California, which was the Carpenters’ hometown. Between the convention participants from all over the world, and the Downy residents, you couldn’t have had a better audience for the Carpenters. It was so great, so fun.

A lot of it has to do with the respect you have demonstrated for their music and what they accomplished and you show a lot of reverence for them, by taking your tribute seriously.
People really do appreciate that. The fact that we do give it that respect. That was one of the things when we first started the project, Mark and I would wonder, “are people going to get it or are they just going to assume we’re taking advantage of Karen and Richard’s legacy?” But they really do get it, they really understand it, and over and over again, at all of our shows, we have people thanking us for keeping the music alive. It is really cool to hear those songs performed by live musicians. I think that really creates chemistry between the audience and our musicians on stage. It really is magical.

Sounds like people are still embracing the Carpenters’ music after all these years.
They really are. I think in some ways actually there’s been even more interest. The year we did our very first cabaret show in Toronto, which was 10 years ago, Randy Schmidt’s book, Little Girl Blue came out. I think the book was so well received and became a best seller and it renewed interest in Karen and The Carpenters. Then there was this incredible thing we call the world wide web. It’s crazy. You can go down a rabbit hole of Carpenters’ clips — all sorts of stuff, television performances, that happened all over the world, not only in the U.S., but they traveled all over the world, in Asia, Europe, performed on TV shows there, and then there’s the documentaries that were made over the years, it’s really quite something.

They came along when the variety show was still the thing. That’s how most of us saw them back in the day.
Gosh, yes, the “Carol Burnett Show,” “Donny & Marie,” “Sonny & Cher.” I mean there were so many great variety shows. We were so lucky. What an innocent time.

Any new projects?
We have an exciting new venture happening in the new year. We’re going to be doing our very first show with an orchestra. We’re going to be performing with the North Charleston Pops in South Carolina in April next year. It’s gonna be such a cool experience because what a thrill to stand in front of a 60+ piece orchestra with all those strings and horns. Oh, my gosh, just the sonic power of it, and performing with all those talented musicians. It’s such a natural for this music because Richard really did have such an orchestral touch on these arrangements, so it’s just makes perfect sense, and actually Karen and Richard did do a number of orchestra shows when they were touring, so it fits. Looking forward to that.

How has the show evolved since the last time you were here?
We’ve added some songs — we’ve got the beautiful tune, “I Won’t Last A Day Without You,” which was written by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols, and was a beautiful hit for the Carpenters. We’ve added a couple of songs from the late ’70s. They’re covers that the Carpenters did, “Touch Me When We’re Dancing,” which did chart, and “All You Get from Love is a Love Song.” Those two tunes, which we’ve had requested over the years, we’ve added those and we’ve included the very last song that Karen recorded. It wasn’t actually released until after her death, it’s called “Now,” It’s a gorgeous ballad she recorded, so we’ve added that. We’ve still got those biggest hits, “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “Super Star,” “Rainy Days,” “Top of the World,” “Close To You,” — it astounds me every time I look at the set list and think about all these songs they had. Then everybody sings along to every song. Every show you can see them out in the audience, and depending on the venue, sometimes I can hear them singing along with every song that evening.

Will there be any holiday tunes?
I don’t think so, I think we’re just going to stick to the full hits show because it is early November and the gang in Laughlin has seen us in the past with the full holiday show. So I think we’re just going to keep it all hits and really celebrate that 50th anniversary of Karen and Richard’s first album — give ’em wall-to-wall great songs they can sing and dance to.
There will be five of us including musicians this time. These guys bring their ‘A’ game and they play their butts off, they are such good players and the legacy each one of them has within the music business is tremendous.

Well, you keep getting invited back to the Riverside, so whatever you’re doing, it’s working.
It’s so wonderful, because we actually get to be in one place for five nights, do one sound check and just show up at the showroom. Everything’s dialed in, the crew is so great there, and the nice thing, too, is that everybody kind of gets comfortable. We see familiar faces. The guys always go out and do a big hike one of the days we’re there, there are different restaurants that we enjoy, and for people who tour and spend their lives on the road, those little things we revisit are comforts, you know? It makes it feel like home on the road.
It’s been a nice, busy year, we just feel blessed and privileged to be able to keep doing this and returning to Laughlin. When I sent out the email blasts to tell everybody we’re coming back, they were very happy to hear it. We look forward to seeing everybody there.


CARPENTERS REMEMBERED

Don’s Celebrity Theatre within the Riverside Resort

Wednesday-Sunday, Nov. 6-10 (7 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for ticket info