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BWW Review: Kati Neiheisel Puts A New Spin on The Carpenters With YESTERDAY... ONCE MORE at Pangea

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Through strategic planning and terrific treatments, Kati Neiheisel covers The Carpenters without the threat of comparisons to Karen.

BWW Review: Kati Neiheisel Puts A New Spin on The Carpenters With YESTERDAY... ONCE MORE at Pangea When you're in a club and you realize a singer is about to do the song "People" do you flinch? How about "Maybe This Time" or "Over the Rainbow"? Does it make you nervous when a performer goes out on the light limb of performing songs that have already seen their ultimate performance, their be-all-end-all, and in the voice of one of the all-time greats? There are always going to be people who sing the songs of Barbra Streisand, of Liza Minnelli, and of the great Judy Garland. There are, though, fewer people who are willing to take on Karen Carpenter. Perhaps that is because Ms. Carpenter holds a tangibly special place in the hearts of a perpetually growing throng of fans, largely because of the unique quality of her voice, one based on a combination of the timbre of said voice and the emotional depth present in her performances. So why any artist would take on the Herculean task of doing a Carpenters cover is a mystery, let alone an entire show of Carpenters music: it seems like a gig almost destined to end badly.

Kati Neiheisel's exploration into the Carpenters canon has not ended badly.

Yesterday was the final (for now) performance of YESTERDAY... ONCE MORE, Neiheisel's Pangea-based tribute show to the legendary Seventies pop combo, and this writer (a devoted Carpenters listener for the last fifty years) has been all but desperate to catch the act - but unavailable - and even though this was the last of Ms. Neiheisel's four-show run, missing the closing performance was simply not possible. Gratitude fills the air because Kati Neiheisel is more than equal to the task of representing the legacy of the Carpenters, and that of Karen herself.

BWW Review: Kati Neiheisel Puts A New Spin on The Carpenters With YESTERDAY... ONCE MORE at Pangea Ms. Neiheisal, a lovely and likable onstage presence, has gathered together an eighteen track show (although yesterday's performance included - appropriately - the iconic "Merry Christmas Darling", arguably one of the greatest Christmas songs of all time) that covers Carpenters music from their earliest recordings to Karen's very final moment in the recording studio. Offering everything from their greatest hit ("Close to You") to more obscure tunes from (mostly) the duo's earlier albums, even adding fun and fabulous bits of trivia in the form of some commercial jingles, Kati displays a beautiful singing voice and a proficient technical ability that is enhanced by her work with Musical Director Gregory Toroian, known for his jazz arrangements, arrangements which brilliantly inform the program, at times taking center stage as one of the afternoon's chief stars of the show.

Neiheisel, easily one of the most relaxed and laid-back performers working in cabaret today, is working with an outstanding band that includes bassist Skip Ward and percussionist David Silliman, and the relationship between Kati and the band is the strongest one in the show, even overshadowing her relationship Karen Carpenter herself. This is actually a boon to the club act, apparently something that Neiheisel worked on with director Lina Koutrakos and Toroian, and one of the reasons the act succeeds. Though the benevolent Neiheisel talks a bit about the Carpenters, offering factoids and tidbits, the focus does tend toward being on the music itself. The creative team removed the certain possibility of comparisons to Karen Carpenter by giving Kati a series of jazz treatments (the sort for which Toroian is well-respected) that place the focus squarely on her voice, her technique, and the jazz vocabulary that she shares with Toroian. There are a few singers who can match Gregory's proficiency (which can be intimidating) and Kati Neiheisel is on display here as one of the singers who can. To be sure, she is not (yet) the greatest vocal collaborator with whom Toroian has worked, but she has made an impressive start by diving into his treatments of these songs without fear or hesitation, trusting her Maestro, and learning the ways of the jazz singer. It is a musical pairing that promises to yield wonderful things in the future, as his treatments provide her warm-honeyed voice with intricate phrasing and interesting tonal opportunities that don't just show off their respective talents, but that of the songwriters whose work they put on display.

BWW Review: Kati Neiheisel Puts A New Spin on The Carpenters With YESTERDAY... ONCE MORE at Pangea Going hand-in-hand with the choice to place the emphasis of Ms. Neiheisel's show on the music itself, is the decision to have Kati remain mostly emotionally aloof for the musical performances. The Carpenters were a ballad-heavy band and Karen's voice was always rich with feeling; by making the choice to have Kati remove a majority of emotion from her performances, the team has wisely turned Ms. Neiheisel into a blank canvas that allows the words and the musical notes to land inside of the perceptions of each member of the audience, where, like a pointillist painting, they can create the imagery and empathy that, most, reflects their own experience of the song. It is a bold experiment that keeps Kati's voice front and center, with the compositions, while her spoken patter delves into Karen's life, as well as Kati's - indeed it is when Ms. Neiheisel discusses her own family, her own life experiences, her own opinions that she becomes the most animated, offering a sort of personality amuse-bouche that leaves you wanting more. In spite of their obvious intentions, it is not really possible for a singing storyteller to go cold turkey on emotion, and there is delightful whimsy in the jingle moments, the occasional up-tempo, and (quite resonantly) in Ms. Neiheisel's performance of "Now" (the previously mentioned final recording), which actually became a bit of teary-eyed moment in the production.

It is a sophisticated act that Team Neiheisel has created, and a daring one, too, and it pays off. Because of their combined choices to place the emphasis on Toroian's jazz treatments, the unadulterated tones of Neiheisel's voice, and the musical compositions, they have honored the music created by Karen Carpenter and the lasting legacy of that music. It's an elegant and unselfish way to orchestrate a tribute show and one for which Kati Neiheisel and her creative guides should be commended. Hopefully, the trio will find opportunities to further present the program for future audiences to enjoy their unique efforts and Karen Carpenter's music.

Find great shows to see at Pangea HERE.

THIS is the Kati Neiheisel website.

Kati Neiheisel gets a five out of five microphones rating for performing her entire show without the use of a lyric sheet, tablet, or music stand.

BWW Review: Kati Neiheisel Puts A New Spin on The Carpenters With YESTERDAY... ONCE MORE at Pangea

BWW Review: Kati Neiheisel Puts A New Spin on The Carpenters With YESTERDAY... ONCE MORE at Pangea BWW Review: Kati Neiheisel Puts A New Spin on The Carpenters With YESTERDAY... ONCE MORE at Pangea BWW Review: Kati Neiheisel Puts A New Spin on The Carpenters With YESTERDAY... ONCE MORE at Pangea BWW Review: Kati Neiheisel Puts A New Spin on The Carpenters With YESTERDAY... ONCE MORE at Pangea

Photos by Stephen Mosher


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