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Easy Street gets close to The Carpenters

Easy Street Productions is bringing back “Close to You: A Musical Salute to the Carpenters” for an encore.

Easy Street cofounder Maureen Collins along with the duo of Mary Jo Maluso and Rick Blackson first presented the cabaret show last fall at Easy Street’s studio on Mahoning Avenue in Youngstown, where it was a quick sell-out.

“People were totally moved,” Collins said. “The Carpenters have a knack for making you remember a time. Their music sends you back. For my age group, I remember places where I was for almost every song.”

This weekend they will do “Close to You” at DeYor Performing Arts Center’s Flad Pavilion, where Easy Street used to have cabaret shows before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The venue can accommodate more than twice as many people for each performance compared to Easy Street, and Collins said they thought the show would be an appealing offering for post-Valentine’s Day weekend even though, “The poor girl didn’t have many upbeat songs about romance.”

Karen Carpenter and her brother, Richard, released more than a dozen albums from 1969 until her death in 1983. The Carpenters had more than 20 top 40 hits and won three Grammy Awards.

Collins said it takes a trio to come close to creating the sound of the brother-sister duo.

“Rick is a one-man band just like Richard was,” she said. “They did everything themselves, but they stacked their vocals. There were three, four vocals on every song. With the three of us, we’re able to come up with that perfect Carpenters sound.”

The cabaret show runs about 90 minutes and includes 18 songs recorded by the duo along with some information about each track.

Some of those familiar tunes hit differently than they did when Collins was younger.

“Singing `Rainy Days and Mondays’ – `Talkin’ to myself and feelin’ old …’ – when I was in my teens and graduating from high school, those words didn’t mean anything to me,” she said. “Now when I sing them, I almost get choked up.”

“Bless the Beasts and the Children” is another song that resonates more with her now. Collins works with a lot of children through the Easy Street workshops she teaches and sees those students dealing with a lot of issues she didn’t face growing up.

“That song is so topical now with what’s going on,” she said. “I feel children are being overlooked.”

Some of the “Little Rascals” Collins teaches also will be featured in “Close to You” on the songs “Top of the World” and “Sing.”

The cabaret show gives Collins a chance to do what she loves most – perform – and she wants to take advantage of those opportunities while she can.

“Rick and I have become just teachers, even though being a teacher isn’t a `just,'” she said. “He works all week teaching piano and voice, and I’m doing the workshops. We got into this because we love to entertain. For a while we couldn’t do that (because of COVID-19) and I’m trying to do more performing and keep the classes going. This show has reminded me why I started doing this, and I’m just delighted to get an opportunity to do it.”

If you go …

WHAT: Easy Street Productions – “Close to You: A Musical Salute to the Carpenters”

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

WHERE: Flad Pavilion, DeYor Performing Arts Center, 260 W. Federal St., Youngstown

HOW MUCH: Tickets are $25 and are available at the DeYor box office, online at experienceyourarts.org and by calling 330-259-9651.

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