Broadway World Feature - by Debbie Hall July 22, 2019
The Carpenters transformed music in the 1970s and '80s as one of the biggest-selling American acts, and their legacy lives on. Carpenters Tribute Concert, recreating the 1976 United Kingdom tour, will be performed in Las Vegas for one night at the Starbright Theatre on Aug. 10.
The show stars Sally Olson as Karen Carpenter and Ned Mills as Richard Carpenter along with a tribute to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. It was Alpert, one of the co-founders of A&M records, who significantly helped The Carpenters with their career and catapulted them to stardom.
The show is not just one song after another highlighting the career of the music and legacy of the famed brother and sister duo. It is a definitive show celebrating them with a recreation of the 1976 United Kingdom tour. Along with hits such as "We've Only Just Begun," "Yesterday Once More," and "Superstar," other highlights include Karen's drum solo, Richard's classical piano piece, Spike Jones parody of "Close To You," and their humor to recreate their showmanship. Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, such a powerhouse act as well and instrumental in The Carpenter's career, enhances the authenticity of the show. Of course, the music is live with some of Las Vegas' top musicians playing. Their show is the only one that includes a Richard tribute artist, Karen's drum solo, and pays tribute to Herb Alpert. This is a full production that allows for interaction and improvisation while everyone stays in character.
The story of how Olson and Mills teamed up is something Karen and Richard would have appreciated. When Karen and Richard were doing a press junket in the early '70s, a reporter asked them how they met, and Karen's response was, "in college." Olson had absorbed all things Carpenters and, while performing solo, made her Las Vegas debut in January 2018. It was there she first worked with Mills as her pianist.
"It was a friend of mine, a former showgirl, who set it up for me to perform with various pianists," Olson explains. "Ned was the first one and the last one since we just performed so well together."
While Olson had been a fan and tribute artist for years, Mills worked as an entertainer and pianist. As for his desire to add working with Olson and becoming a tribute artist, "It evolved very quickly. When Sally started singing as Karen Carpenter, I was intrigued. She would sing solo and then I wanted to harmonize with her. As I explored their musical backgrounds, I wanted to do something more with Sally and The Carpenters."
Olson and Mills became more successful with the duo performance and when they were asked to perform The Carpenters Tribute Concert during the Carpenters 50th Anniversary Celebration, an international convention commemorating the Carpenters signing with A&M Records, it became a mutual decision to continue. Musicians were added, and the show was ramped up to become a production. As well as the lead vocal as Karen Carpenter, Olson is the artistic director. Mills is the musical director, arranger, pianist as well as lead and backup vocals as Richard.
"I have always been a huge fan of the music from the 1960s to 1970s even though I grew up in the '80s and '90s," Olson says.
Originally from Vermont, Olson has been singing and acting since childhood. She obtained Bachelor of Arts degrees in Studio Art and French from Middlebury College and also attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Florence Academy of Art in Italy and the Circle in the Square Theatre School in New York City. Olson has immersed herself in all things Carpenters for years and debuted as Karen Carpenter in 2015. She now lives Las Vegas to perform with Mills in other venues as well as The Carpenters Tribute Concert.
"Richard is an accomplished musician who is still performing today in his 70s," Mills explains. "He was the driving force behind The Carpenters. He is a consummate jazz pianist and started his career as the Richard Carpenter Trio. I have to study very hard to capture his sound; it is an honor, and I am thrilled to do it."
A pianist, singer, and entertainer, Ned Mills was born in Charleston, South Carolina and began playing piano at the age of four. He has entertained audiences in over 20 countries and on three continents. After receiving his Bachelor of Music cum laude in Jazz Arranging at North Texas State University, Mills moved back to the South and performed regularly throughout the Southeast. He made his way to Las Vegas to open his show, Piano Follies, a tribute to the music of Gershwin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Broadway tunes, Liberace, and Victor Borge and has lived in Southern Nevada close to 20 years.
More exciting news for Olson when she will be the first-ever Karen Carpenter tribute artist to perform with Legends in Concert beginning November in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Olson and Mills also perform a duo act and open mic in Addison's Lounge at the Rampart Casino in Las Vegas Wednesdays from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.