Growing up on her family’s farm in Saskatchewan, Canada, Michelle Berting Brett little expected she would be touring the world with her own cabaret shows and performing the mellow, memorable music of the late Karen Carpenter.
Tickets have been going fast for the tribute concert Merry Christmas Darling: Carpenters’ Christmas that she will be presenting at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 8, at the Jabez S. Hardin Performing Arts Theatre at 7022 Evans Town Center Blvd. Tickets are $39.50. Call (706) 726-0366 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brett and her husband, Mark, a former professional concert photographer who has worked with some of the biggest names in rock music, first presented a tribute to Karen and her brother, Richard Carpenter, at small nightclub in Toronto, Canada, in April 2009.
She had been told repeatedly how much she sounded like Carpenter who died in in 1983 at age 32 from heart failure bought on by complications related to anorexia.
Besides touring with the Christmas show, Brett also performs her show We’ve Only Just Begun: Carpenters Remembered and in 2015 she released her CD of the same title that she recorded in Nashville, Tenn.
The Carpenters brother-and-sister duo racked up 17 Top 20 pop hit singles, nine gold albums, one multi-platinum album and three Grammy Awards between 1970 and 1984.
That long list of hits includes their classic recordings such as Goodbye To Love, Yesterday Once More, (They Long To Be) Close To You, Hurting Each Other, We’ve Only Just Begun (To Live), I Won’t Last A Day Without You, Rainy Days and Mondays (Always Get Me Down) and Top of the World, which also was a hit single for country music star Lynn Anderson.
Brett’s favorite of the Carpenters is Superstar co-authored by Bonnie Bramlett (of the hit duo Delaney & Bonnie) and Leon Russell, who died just a few days ago on Nov. 13 at age 74. Bette Midler actually sang the song on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson before the Carpenters came out with their version.
“Loneliness is such a sad affair, and I can hardly wait to be with you again,” the lyrics go. “What to say to make you come again? Come back to me again and play your sad guitar. Don’t you remember! You told me you loved me, baby? You said you’d be coming back this way again, baby. Baby, baby, baby, baby, oh, baby. I love you. I really do.”
The sadness of the song also reflects the nature of Karen Carpenter’s life. She was so much loved by her fans, and yet she never could get beyond the self-doubts she had about her body and the frequent criticism from her mother, Agnes, who biographers say vocally preferred her son over her daughter.
“From my perspective gained from a lot of reading and a lot of studying including from people who knew the Carpenters, the real dynamic going on in that family revolves around Richard, the oldest son born four years before Karen,” performer Brett says of her take on the situation.
“He was an extremely gifted, special child; a child prodigy in fact,” Brett continued. “Karen was a good-natured, sweet kid whose talents were not discovered until much later on. The family focused on Richard as the ‘golden child,’ who was a very talented pianist and who was the main person behind The Carpenters success.
“But he was pushed aside and the duo became more and more famous,” Brett said. “I think Richard absolutely adored Karen and she appreciated his talents, but they would go on a (network) TV show and he would be regarded simply as ‘Karen’s brother’ instead of being lauded as the brains behind the act.”
Last summer, Brett had a real treat in performing in the Carpenters’ hometown of Downey, Calif.
“I think almost every single person in the audience either knew the Carpenters or were at Karen’s funeral,” Brett said. “I heard just incredible stories, and it was just wonderful to hear them. The Carpenters were deeply, deeply loved by their fans, but they also were professional musicians who were deeply loved by the people in the music business.”
Brett herself grew up on the family wheat and Black Angus farm very secure of being loved and being encouraged to express her own love of music.
Her dad played bass guitar and sang in a country music band and especially loved American artists George Jones, Buck Owens, George Strait, Randy Travis and Patsy Cline.
“It’s the way of smaller communities around the world,” she said. “Playing pop and country music on my little, red transistor radio was a big part of my growing up”
Brett studied opera and theater at Dickinson State University in North Dakota and graduated from the music theater program at Sheridan College in Ontario. She has traveled the world performing on cruise ships, singing to military troops in Bosnia and entertaining in luxury hotels in Dubai and other spots on different continents. She learned to sing in French, Spanish, Japanese, Italian, German and Latin.
One of her favorite touring roles in the U.S. and Canada has been to play country music legend June Carter, wife of Johnny Cash, in the musical The Man in Black.
“It was one of the most amazing experiences working off and on for several years in The Man in Black,” Brett said, “because Johnny Cash is such an American icon. It didn’t matter where we went, the sold show out, and it always was such a diverse group of people; young and old, every orientation and every culture.”
WHO: Michelle Berting Brett starring in Merry Christmas Darling: Carpenters’ Christmas
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 8
WHERE Jabez S. Hardin Performing Arts Theatre, 7022 Evans Town Center Blvd.
TICKETS: $39.50; (706) 726-0366 or email email@example.com