Close To You

Through the 1970s and early ‘80s, two gifted siblings made their way into the hearts of fans who adored their beautiful lilting melodies and meaningful song lyrics. Karen and Richard Carpenter were a true dynamic duo, with Karen on drums and lead vocals and Richard singing harmony, playing piano and composing for their band, the Carpenters.

Another complementary pair has taken the task of performing the iconic Carpenters repertoire in two different tribute shows, “We’ve Only Just Begun: Carpenters Remembered” and “Merry Christmas Darling: Carpenters’ Holiday Show.” Michelle Berting Brett takes the stage in Karen’s role and her husband Mark Brett is the show’s producer.

Berting Brett grew up listening to the Carpenters and was always musical herself.

“I was definitely a musical kid and music was really important in our family,” she said. “I grew up in Saskatchewan, Canada, and I loved music from when I was little. My mom would teach me songs and my dad is actually a guitar and bass player and a wonderful singer. He sang with a band locally for many years. My sisters and I sang together when we were growing up and we all were involved in music at school and church.”

She studied opera at Dickinson State University in North Dakota, then moved on to study musical theater at Sheridan College in Ontario, Canada. For the first 10 years of her career she worked in theater, performing in musicals, with Toronto as her home base. She also put together cabaret shows for herself during this time.

“When I was doing those cabaret shows I was singing songs from the Standard Songbook and then I would do some of my favorite pop tunes that I grew up with,” Berting Brett recalled. “I loved the Carpenters and I started doing some of their songs. People would always come talk to me after the shows and tell me how much they enjoyed the songs I did by the Carpenters. Often times people would say, ‘You sound just like Karen Carpenter.’ Which was this wonderful compliment because she really is a one-of-a-kind singer.”

After so many comparisons to Karen’s voice, and seeing the appreciation for Carpenters music, Berting Brett began thinking of her next venture.

“This phenomena of being told I sound like Karen Carpenter and also hearing these wonderful stories of how much the Carpenters’ music means to people just kind of put a little lightbulb in my head to do a show of all Carpenters music,” she said. “Clearly there was an audience out there for it.”

However she didn’t act on her idea until encouraged by her partner.

“I had this idea in my head for several years, but it was only after I told my then boyfriend, now husband, Mark Brett, who is the producer of our show, about this idea that I had, did it all of a sudden take shape,” she said. “It was funny because I had sent a recording I’d made of ‘Merry Christmas Darling’ to Mark our very first Christmas together. He just fell in love with it. He hadn’t really heard me sing that style of music and he just loved it. And I said, ‘Mark you know its funny you love this song so much because I’ve always had this dream of doing a show of all Carpenters music.’ And he said, ‘Michelle, let’s do it!’ All of a sudden there was all of this energy and passion — it became like our little baby.”

So the pair put together a simple show to start out with to gage the audience response.

“We did our very first show in a little cabaret club in Toronto in 2009, and it was just all about getting a feel of the audience’s reaction and getting the songs under my belt,” Berting Brett said. “It was such a wonderful response and almost every single person in the audience came up to me after the show and said, ‘You brought tears to my eyes.’ So Mark and I knew we had something, because that’s gold hearing that people’s emotions were affected during the show.”

They continued to build the show after that, and the couple was married in 2011. They made their home base in the U.S. and decided to really adapt the show into a full production.

“We decided if we were going to do this, we were going to do it right,” Berting Brett said. “We were based in the U.S. then so we found a wonderful music director out of Nashville and put together a fantastic band. The show as we know it now debuted in 2013 and we’ve been going strong ever since. We’ve played all across the country — everything from B.B. King’s in New York City, to Downey, California, where the Carpenters grew up.”

Berting Brett said it has been a dream come true to be able to sing the Carpenters’ music and share her musical passion with her husband.

“The melodies are so gorgeous and the lyrics are so heartfelt,” she said. “For a singer, you wait your whole life to be able to sing a repertoire like this. It never gets boring. I’ve been doing this show for 12 years and I still love singing these songs.

“Mark has been absolutely tireless selling the show and introducing it to people. He’s got the vision of where we should be and play. It’s just been a real joy to do the show and travel. For both of us to be in the music business and actually work together on a project that means so much to us has just been a gift.”

Through their extensive touring with the show, they’ve collected a multitude of friends, fans and stories along the way.

“Over the years we’ve met all these wonderful people who worked with Karen and Richard and knew them,” Berting Brett said. “So we’ve heard all of these great stories from people and some of them we’re able to incorporate into the show. People always enjoy the stories. I think we all want to hear the behind the scenes information because it adds another dimension to hearing the songs when you know what Karen and Richard went through or why they recorded a song.”

Berting Brett brings her tribute back to the Riverside Resort for the fifth time, Wednesday-Sunday, Nov. 24-28 (7 p.m.). She will be performing the holiday show with selections from the 1978 Carpenters album, “Christmas Portrait,” as well as their biggest hits.

“It’s a show that takes people down memory lane for sure, especially with the stories about the Carpenters and the era they came from — the ‘70s and ‘80s,” she said. “What’s really wonderful about the songs is how much they are a part of us. People sing along to every song and they just have a ball. It’s a great show to put you in the Christmas spirit and a great show to take that trip down memory lane. It’s a nice little escape for the evening.

“With the Christmas show we’ve got a great selection of Christmas songs and then of course the hits. We’re not going to get out of town without doing those favorites like ‘Rainy Days and Mondays,’ ‘Close to You’ and ‘Only Yesterday.’”

Fans will walk away feeling like they’ve gotten a taste of the real Carpenters.

“We honor Richard and Karen’s musical legacy and we recreate their arrangements as authentically as possible,” Berting Brett said. “We want people to feel like they are live in the middle of those recordings. Between the songs and the stories, the audience really goes on an emotional journey.”