STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
If you were alive during the 1970s, you know who The Carpenters were.
In all, the sibling duo of Karen and Richard Carpenter landed 20 songs in the top 40. An impressive 10 of them sold at least a half-million copies each, and three of those reached the rarified air of being the No. 1 song in the land. They also made multiple TV appearances, won three Grammys and sold 100 million albums along the way.
During that run, a farm girl in Saskatchewan, Canada developed an attachment to their music — along with the sounds of Linda Ronstadt, Donna Summer and Carly Simon — that came out of her red transistor radio.
Years later, Michelle Berting Brett took a vocational interest in music, studying opera and musical theater, and for 10 years worked in the production side of musical theater. “The hardest part of this business is waiting for jobs to come along, so I started putting together my own cabaret show,” she said.
Performing Great American Songbook selections, jazz classics and jazzy arrangements of the songs she grew up listening to on the radio, Berting Brett started to hear “You know, who you sound like is Karen Carpenter.”
Testing the waters in Toronto in 2009 with a singer-and-pianist all-Carpetners cabaret, the emotional responses were impossible to ignore. “Every single person who came up after the show said: ‘I cried.’ That’s the gold standard, right there,” said Berting Brett, who then developed a full-band, multimedia version of the show with the help of her husband, Mark, who is a behind-the-scenes professional in the music business.
Immigrating to the U.S., and even settling in The Carpenters’ original home state of Connecticut, the Bretts assembled a septet of Nashville pros — including musicians that had worked with Donna Summer and Reba McEntire — for a touring band. You’ll hear the saxophone solo in “Rainy Days and Mondays” and the woodwind parts in “We’ve Only Just Begun” — which is the name of the tribute act.
For smaller stages, like Sellersville Theater, the backing band pares down to a quartet, augmented with pre-recorded tracks by the other We’ve Only Just Begun members. “I love playing (intimate venues) because you do have that chemistry and have that connection emotionally because (the audience is) right there in front of you.”
Sure, you’ll hear “(They Long To Be) Close to You” and “Superstar.” But delving even deeper, the show features the deliciously odd “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft.” “I remember where I was when I first heard it … in my bedroom listening to my clock radio. Richard and Karen were on the cutting edge. This was before ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind.’ Carpenters fans definitely demand it,” said Berting Brett.
So who comes to see We’ve Only Just Begun? According to Berting Brett she’s seen, forty-somethings, fifty-somethings, bikers, “teeny-tiny grandmas” and even YouTube-fixated youths that stumbled upon vintage Carpenters clips in their travels.
Get more at www.weveonlyjustbegunshow.com, www.facebook.com/WeveOnlyJustBegun and Twitter @WOJBCarpenters.