East Penn Press

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

She creates ‘Christmas Portrait’ of Karen Carpenter

Thursday, December 14, 2017 by ERIN FERGUSON Special to The Press in Focus

“Merry Christmas Darling: Carpenters’ Christmas” brings holiday hits of the season to the State Theatre for the Arts, Easton, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 14.

Vocalist Michelle Berting Brett and her seven-piece Nashville band directed by Harry Sharpe, perform songs from Karen and Richard Carpenters’ two Christmas albums and some of their iconic hit singles.

Karen Carpenter (1950 - 1983) died more than three decades ago, but the pop music she made with her brother is still popular.

“It’s the soundtrack of their lives and we have a younger audience celebrating it and listening to it as well. I try to honor her phrasing and get as deeply as possible into the emotions of the songs. She imbued every single note with so much emotion,” Berting Brett says in a phone interview.

“We have an incredible seven-piece band that creates magic with their live music. The show has such an orchestral vibrant sound just like the Carpenters had. Although it’s beautiful and pretty, it’s very complex.

“It’s been a real privilege for the past four years doing this show and when the material is this rich you don’t get sick of it. Mark Brett, my husband, and myself have insight into behind-the-scenes information into the world behind the music of the Carpenters and we share that during the show.”

Berting Brett, a farm girl from a musical family from Canada, studied opera and musical theater at Sheridan College, Ontario, Canada. She has toured in show bands, on the high seas and in her own cabaret shows.

She was encouraged by her now husband and producer, Mark Brett, to create a one-woman show based around the Carpenters’ music after being told repeatedly that she sounded like Karen Carpenter.

“I would say, for me, to even be compared to Karen in the same breath is such an honor and such an incredible compliment. The thing about Karen is that she had one of those voices that is very distinguished. The truth is there is only one Karen, so for me it’s about recreating those sounds and putting together a show with my husband to honor their legacy and the incredible classic material.”

They took a modest cabaret act of vocals and a pianist in 2009 and evolved it into a touring production that has played major showrooms in the United States, with sold-out performances in Las Vegas. Last year, the show played to an SRO audience at the 800-seat Downey Theatre in Southern California where the Carpenters grew up and returned to the much larger Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts this year.

The Carpenter siblings, signed to A&M Records in 1969, released their breakthrough second album, “Close to You,” in 1970. The duo had a string of hits, toured widely, starred in their own TV specials. “Christmas Portrait” was the first Christmas album recorded by the Carpenters and released Oct. 13, 1978, the only one issued during Karen Carpenter’s lifetime. A second holiday album, “An Old-Fashioned Christmas,” was released in 1984.

“A&M Records didn’t want them to do a Christmas album and they fought the record label to create it. Richard had such a clear idea of what would sound good, Karen’s voice and what their creative center was, and he insisted they record it. Their first album still hits the charts. Imagine what that album has meant for the record company. Richard, I’m sure, is laughing to himself.”

The State Theatre show features holiday classics like “The Christmas Song,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and “Merry Christmas Darling,” plus Carpenters’ cherished hits like “Rainy Days and Mondays,” “Superstar,” “(They Long to Be) Close to You,” We’ve Only Just Begun.”

“I try to be as sparkly as possible, sparkly and twinkly. I think as time goes on I get more and more bling. People love it. It adds to the experience to have a beautiful gown. The guys in the band are in their fine suits and the back-up singer looks lovely as well. There are twinkly lights and Christmas décor.

“There is a story, character, emotional journey through each song. It has all played a role. Creating this show with Mark Brett, Harry Sharpe and the band … it really packs a punch in terms of the music and the arrangements and the stories. You really get a full experience.

“People always say that we brought back so many great memories during our shows. For people to have that experience and reflect on their lives, walking away with a positive feeling, it’s just great.

“It makes you realize what an incredible privilege it is and as time goes by, I become more and more appreciative of it. Karen and Richard’s Christmas albums are so powerful. The songs, memories, it’s all so rich.

“What they created with their Christmas music, their legacy and how much these records mean to people, it’s just an amazing experience and everyone who sees the show falls in love with it.”

Berting Brett’s CD, “We’ve Only Just Begun: Carpenters Remembered,” recorded in Nashville, includes performances of the Carpenters’ most memorable songs, among them “Close to You,” “Yesterday Once More,” “Rainy Days & Mondays” and “We’ve Only Just Begun.”

Tickets: State Theatre Center for the Arts box office, 453 Northampton St., Easton; statetheatre.org; 1-800-999-7828; 610-252-3132