Brett to headline ‘Carpenters Christmas’ in December

By DAVID YARNELL
Special to the News Advocate

MANISTEE — Michelle Berting Brett says she will bring “the soundtrack of our lives” to the Little River Casino Resort on Dec. 15 when she headlines the show “Merry Christmas Darling: Carpenters Christmas.”

Tickets for the concert go on sale Friday.

Through the 1970s Karen and Richard Carpenter sold more than 90 million records with three No. 1 and five No. 2 singles.

The soundtrack Brett refers to includes “(They Long to Be) Close to You,” “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “Merry Christmas Darling,” “Rainy Days and Mondays,” “Superstar,” “Top of the World,” “Sing,” “Please Mr. Postman” and “Only Yesterday.”

The Carpenters recorded the first of their 10 albums, “Offering,” in 1969, and a single from it, “Ticket to Ride,” reached No. 54 on the charts. Just weeks later their mega-hit “(They Long to Be) Close to You” reached No. 1, instantly placing them among the most popular musicians in America.

Into the 1980s the Carpenters were in demand on the concert circuit and continued to record hits. Their career was cut short 1983, however, when Karen died at age 32 of heart failure, a complication of an eating disorder she had been fighting for years.

Her death brought attention to, and national discussion of, eating disorders.

Richard and Karen were born in New Haven, Conn., Karen the younger sibling by four years. In 1965 the family moved to Downey, Calif., to boost Richard’s music career as a pianist, composer and arranger. Later Karen became skilled at the drums and for several years Richard played keyboards and Karen drums for the jazz oriented Richard Carpenter Trio. In 1966 the trio won a Hollywood Bowl Battle of the Bands.

Richard and Karen formed The Carpenters in 1968 when they were both music majors at Long Beach State University. They were discovered and signed by A&M Records in 1969 when they competed on the television show “Your All American College Show.”

Karen received many honors through the years, including being named as one of the 100 best singers of all time by Rolling Stone magazine.

Brett, reached by telephone at her home in Connecticut, talked about the steps that brought about the creation of their Carpenters tribute shows, which include “We’ve Only Just Begun: Carpenters Remembered” and “Merry Christmas Darling: Carpenters Christmas.”

“As a child of the ’70s, I grew up with their music, and the very first gig I ever did was my cousin’s wedding, singing ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’ and John Denver’s ‘Annie’s Song,'” said Brett, who grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan.

“I knew their music intimately and in the early days of my career, after I’d gone off to Toronto to study musical theater, between regional theater gigs I’d sing cabaret shows and people would tell me I sounded like Karen Carpenter,” Brett said.

“What a great compliment,” she continued. “So I started adding them in my shows and invariably people would come up to me after the show and say, ‘Oh, I loved that Carpenters’ tune’ and they would always have a great story for me about what that song meant to them.”

She said that because the response to the show was always so positive and so emotional she started thinking about doing a show that’s all Carpenters songs. That idea came closer to reality when she met music producer Mark Brett, who would become her husband.

“I met him on tour — he was working at a venue as a stage manager,” she said. “We had a long distance love affair since I was in Toronto and he was in Connecticut, and as Christmas came closer I sent him a recording I’d made of my favorite Christmas song, ‘Merry Christmas Darling.’

“Mark just fell in love with it and when I shared with him that I’d always had this dream of doing a Carpenters show, he said, ‘Wow, let’s do it.’”

Brett did her first Carpenters show accompanied by a pianist at a Toronto cabaret club in April 2009.

“We thought we’d start small and see what the reaction would be and how it felt to do the show. It was an incredible experience for me as a singer – to dig into those beautiful melodies was like heaven. I had a wonderful piano player working with me and soon we had standing room only crowds. At the end of the shows almost everyone said it had made them cry.

“We knew that we had something because of that kind of reaction, that kind of response. To move people emotionally, that’s why we performers do what we do.”

Before long, Michelle and Mark were married, and they made their home in Connecticut.

“We decided that if we were going to be living in the U.S. we would have to have a band and a show based here, so we started putting together the two shows.

The Bretts got together with Nashville-based music director Harry Sharpe, who eventually took the role of Richard Carpenter.

“We put our heads together to find we were definitely on the same wave length with our love and appreciation of the music of the Carpenters. The next step was hand picking the wonderful pool of musicians we have working with us,” Michelle said.

“It’s been wonderful,” she continued. “We had our very first show in February of 2013 in Iowa, and we haven’t looked back since. We’ve played all over the country – Las Vegas, New York City, the Carpenters hometown of Downey, Calif. Everywhere we go we have this wonderful Carpenters fan base that we keep in touch with through social media.

“It’s a privilege each night to bring these songs to life and do so as authentically and with as much reverence and respect for what Karen and Richard gave us as we can possible muster. It’s been amazing, and an amazing journey.“

Brett said because of the popularity of the Carpenters’ Christmas songs they do as many Christmas shows as the regular show.

“It’s such a natural,” she said. “The Carpenters’ music is still played every holiday season. In fact I think a couple of years ago the album ‘Christmas Portrait’ was on the Billboard charts again after 40 plus years.

“A great thing about the Christmas show,” she continued, “is that in addition to doing the Christmas classics we also bring in the big hits. We couldn’t get out of town without doing ‘We’ve Only Just Begun,’ ‘Close to You’ and ‘Rainy Days and Monday’s’.”

Brett notes that this won’t be her first time performing at the Little River Casino Resort. Several years ago she sang the role of June Carter in the Johnny Cash tribute show “Man In Black.”

“What a great place to perform,” she said. “The audiences are so warm and lovely. I have good memories of that.”

One of the things she enjoys about doing the Carpenters shows is that they bring in multi-generational audiences.

“It’s cool to see mom, dad, the kids and grandma and grandpa,” she said. “We’ve had people who went to high school together in the ’70s come to the show together. They bring Carpenters memorabilia – programs from concerts and albums – and they wave them while we’re playing.”

Brett said she is looking forward to next summer when the show will be helping celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Carpenters first album at an international celebration in Downey, Calilf.

“We’re so honored to be asked to perform in the Carpenters’ hometown,” she said. “It’s also really exciting news that Richard Carpenter has just finished recording in Abbey Road Studios with the Royal Philharmonic, which I expect will be released for the 50th anniversary.

“It’s all great news for Carpenters fans out there. We’re very lucky to be a part of the community of Carpenters fans and and are excited about what 2019 will bring.”

Tickets for the Manistee event can be purchased at Little River Casino Resort Box Office, online at LRCR.com, or with Star Tickets at (800) 585-3737.

 

 

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