Interview: Amy Rafa And Brent Marty Talk Friendship, Music, and their upcoming CARPENTERS PROJECT at The Laurie Beechman

Close friends Amy Rafa and Brent Marty are bringing a show celebrating the Carpenters to the Laurie Beechman Theatre on Thursday March 7th.

By: Feb. 26, 2024
Interview: Amy Rafa And Brent Marty Talk Friendship, Music, and their upcoming CARPENTERS PROJECT at The Laurie Beechman
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The Carpenters are an iconic musical duo. They reigned the pop charts in the 1970s with hits like “Rainy Days & Mondays” and “(They Long to Be) Close to You.” Close friends Amy Rafa (a singer based in New York), and Brent Marty (a musician currently living in Indianapolis), are bringing a show celebrating the Carpenters to the Laurie Beechman Theatre in Manhattan on Thursday March 7th. THE CARPENTER PROJECT will feature hits and some hidden gems by the group, as Brent and Amy share stories about their friendship and their love of the Carpenters. We spoke about the show and the process of putting it together.

I know you'll get into this in more detail in the show, but can you tell me a little bit about what draws you to the Carpenters?

BEM: Amy and I both have fond memories of hearing Carpenters music as young children.  I, in particular, from a young age, found the sound of Karen's voice and the sort of natural heartache in it somehow relatable.  At the risk of sounding terribly cliche, I can point to when I saw the 1989 made-for-television movie, "The Karen Carpenter Story" as another touchstone in my Carpenters journey.  Learning about her tragic end brought a sense of mystery and intimacy to their music which really drew me closer to their catalogue.

AR:  Yes, we definitely talk about this in the show. Their music is what was on the radio when we were kids.  They were one of the hottest groups of the 70s. And Karen's voice is like no other, an original.

You've performed this show before in Indianapolis and at DTM in New York last year. What's the process of doing the show been like?

BEM: Well, it's been about a decade in the making!  I call it a real labor of love.  We took it slow and really developed not only the arrangements of the songs but the "script" of our banter.  Living a few hundred miles apart and a global pandemic notwithstanding, it's been a joy to see it come to fruition.  Our director, Bill Jenkins - a dear friend and Chair of the Dept. of Theatre & Dance at Ball State University, was a great help as was Shannon Forsell, artistic director at The Cabaret in Indianapolis where we developed the show as part of their "incubator" program.

AR:  Additionally, a really helpful part of the process was the opportunity to do two workshops at Ball State before our premiere. These were for friends, family, and creative colleagues - people we knew who would be both supportive and honest in telling us what to keep and what to cut and shape. 

Is there anything that you've discovered or changed as you've gone through iterations of it?

BEM: Ohhhh, yes.  Lots of things ended up on the "cutting room floor".  We learned to let go of some superfluous elements and to keep the show "high and tight".  Things like not repeating multiple choruses of songs, which you want on a recording so people get the song emblazoned in their head, is not something that generally lends itself to the cabaret format.  Audiences want personality, relatability and good, fast-paced storytelling so being judicious with trimming songs or mashing them together becomes really important when presenting "pop music".  Especially because we aren't just presenting a concert of Carpenters music - we use their songs as a vehicle for telling interesting stories.

AR:  We premiered the show with four back-up singers and a three-piece band. (Brent created spectacular arrangements for the singers!)  But logistically it can be challenging to bring that big of a group to all venues. Brent and I made a few adjustments for our two-person version. We've been delighted to discover that the show works in any configuration. 

A significant aspect of the show is about your friendship with each other. How did you meet?

BEM: Amy (or just "Rafa" as she is known to her close college friends), and I met at Ball State.  I was the first graduate of the now-thriving Musical Theatre program there and had continued to work with the department while Amy came in as a freshman.  It's hard to recall exactly when we became familiar with one another, but we have a large, solid group of friends who all came out of that program and keep in touch on the regular.  Amy and I eventually became roommates in Chicago but then separated as she went to graduate school and I ended up back in Indianapolis working for the theatre company I am still with today.  On a side note, she and her husband very generously offer their couch as accommodation when I visit NYC - a very welcome and cost-saving bonus to our friendship which eventually led to us getting to work on what is now "The Carpenters Project".

AR: Ditto to Brent, I can't recall either when we became familiar with one another. Ha! But when your major is also your "after class" activity, you get closer to people than perhaps one would in a different major. You become enmeshed with each other; in many ways you become a family.

What would you like the biggest takeaway from this show to be?

BEM: That the music of Carpenters has a timeless quality to it.  For those of us of a certain age, it has nostalgia tied to it.  But it's also a chance for us to bring it to a new audience while paying a bit of homage to Richard and Karen.  We acknowledge during the show that their sound was pioneering and that Richard was really a genius in the studio; mixing, arranging, rearranging, experimenting like many of his contemporaries were doing.  And really elevating Karen's unique, resonant voice to a level that equaled the rock and roll female artists of the day.

AR: Karen's voice and Richard's vision are for the ages. And that if there are things you want to do/create - find a way to do it. Find a way to engage yourself in what fills your heart.

What's coming up next for you?

BEM:  I continue to work and reside in the Indianapolis area.  Freelancing and heading up the music and education programs at the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre.  We're discussing upcoming dates in and around the Midwest and a potential West Coast tour of the show.  We're getting a website together to promote the show.  Amy and I are also talking about some new cabaret projects!  There's a lot of great music out there, Carpenters and beyond, that people want to hear and we look forward to bringing it to them very soon!

AR: Excited to keep sharing Carpenters with audiences who love them too. I've learned so much from the NYC cabaret community in classes at SINGNASIUM and with Lina Koutrakos' Master Class; I look forward to continuing that work this year as well.


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