Close to You

From Canada to cornfields, to an orchestral show in South Carolina, The Carpenters’ music has taken Michelle Berting-Brett further than she could have imagined. Now she’s celebrating the 10th anniversary of her U.S. show, We’ve Only Just Begun: Carpenters Remembered.

“February is our 10-year anniversary of our very first show in the U.S., which we did in a little casino in Iowa,” Berting-Brett recalled. “I remember getting up the morning of the show and looking out the window and all I could see were cornfields. So 10 years — I just can’t believe it! We’ve been so fortunate. Who would have thought we’d still be doing it? It amazes me.”

She began her career in Canada, where she grew up with a musical family.

“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.”

Her then boyfriend, and now husband and show producer Mark Brett, encouraged her to take the next step and create her own Carpenters tribute.

“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.”

Last year they were able to cross another milestone by performing their first orchestral show, which The Carpenters had done several times.

“Last year started off with us doing our very first show with an orchestra,” Berting-Brett said. “We were with the North Charleston Pops in South Carolina, so that was wonderful. It was something that was an important step for us. Karen and Richard performed with the Boston Pops, the London Philharmonic and across the country they did lots of orchestra shows, so it was part of their legacy. A few years ago Richard actually went to Abbey Road Studios and recorded an orchestra album with their original tracks with the orchestra added in.

“It’s a really neat experience standing in front of 64 orchestral musicians along with our band. It was really something to hear those strings and the brass, and something I had never had the pleasure of doing before.”

No matter where she is, Berting-Brett truly enjoys delivering the heartfelt music to fans.

“One of the things that I’ve often said over the years is, I knew that it was going to be a pleasure to perform these songs. What I didn’t realize was how much fun it was going to be to meet The Carpenters fans and get to know them and become friends with them and hear their stories. It’s so cool,” she said.

While Berting-Brett has brought her Christmas Carpenters show to Laughlin recently, it has been a few years since she last performed the Carpenters Remembered show in town. She will be back with that original show Feb. 1-5 at the Riverside Resort.

“We’re coming back to Don Laughlin’s and I posted the notice on Facebook and there were so many fun responses from people saying, ‘We’ll be there! Can’t wait to hear you again!’” she said. “One of the pleasures of doing this so long is when we go back to a place it feels like we’re coming home in a way, and we’ve got some friends that we get to see. It’s a great team there and hospitality is wonderful.”

She will perform all of the classics that Carpenters fans want to hear.

“It goes back to all those wonderful hits from the ‘70s,” Berting-Brett said. “When Karen and Richard released their second album ‘Close to You’ in 1970, it was a rocket ship. They were instantly worldwide stars. I can’t imagine what that must’ve been like for them, because they were so young. Then from there, came ‘We’ve Only Just Begun,’ ‘Merry Christmas Darling,’ and just an incredible list of hits from ‘Superstar’ to ‘Rainy Days and Mondays,’ ‘Goodbye to Love,’ ‘Hurting Each Other,’ ‘Only Yesterday’ and ‘Top of the World.’

“It’s so fun when performing this show, because the first few notes on the piano and the audience recognizes the tune and they’re with us. You can hear them gasp or they start clapping and singing along. It’s hit after hit after hit, but then we’ve got those album cuts that maybe didn’t go to No. 1 but are so appreciated by The Carpenters aficionados. We do a beautiful vocal piano medley of three songs that are so stellar — ‘Solitaire,’ ‘Now,’ and ‘A Song For You.’ So those always go over big as well as the hits.”

Berting-Brett said even after all these years, she never tires of singing this catalogue.

“Each one of these songs is like an old friend,” she explained. “That’s the thing about doing The Carpenters music, it’s such high-quality music melodically and lyrically, so every time you sing it, there’s so much to dig into. I still find myself discovering things in the songs, with the lyrics and the meaning behind them. Karen made it all sound so easy, but she’s still teaching me things about how to approach a song and phrasing. Whenever we have a little break I always go back to listen to those original recordings and they always inspire me.”

Along with her beautiful interpretation of the music, Berting-Brett brings special insight into The Carpenters, which she gladly shares with the audience.

“In between the songs I always share some of the fun stories about the tunes or how they came to record them,” she said. “Our producer Mark Brett has had such a long career behind the scenes in the music business and worked with so many artists, so when he took on this project, so many of them reached out to him with great stories about their experience of meeting The Carpenters or their music, and I share some of those stories as well. I think people really enjoy hearing that background.”

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.”