Presented by: Adelaide Festival Centre
Reviewed: 8 June 2018
As one half of the famous Carpenters singing duo, Richard Carpenter had the world at his feet. Although dubiously endorsed by American President Richard Nixon as being ‘what’s true and best about America’, they continued their hit-making ways for years. It wasn’t until his sister Karen’s sad death in 1983 that Richard Carpenter faced the harsh realities of pop stardom. Ignored or derided as being part of a musical ‘Brady Bunch’, his legacy as part of the influential group was seemingly discarded. Time has been kinder since with their songs such as Yesterday Once More, Close To You and Top Of The World finding new generations of admirers. The simple melodies of their tracks hid the occasionally dark messages within with the apparent sunny optimism masking the tunes’ harsh shadows.
It would be very easy taking the mickey out of the squeaky-clean image they perpetuated with Richard Carpenter the butt of many jokes. Richard Carpenter Is Close To You veers on the edge of bitter nastiness but still maintains interest. From the outset, it’s explained the show wasn’t endorsed by the real Richard Carpenter, with the songs’ lyrics changed to amusing effect. Written and performed by Matthew Floyd Jones, who himself is part of a duo – the comedic cabaret act Frisky and Mannish – his skills for re-interpretation of classic songs was in full flight. His ways with the piano were pleasurable to listen to with his dulcet tones highlighting the melodic structure – if not the lyrics – in their glory.
But it soon became clear that due to the aforementioned copyright hassles, Richard Carpenter Is Close To You was more about the man than the music. Attempting to find his identity away from his sibling, most of the one-hour show was spent watching ‘Richard Carpenter’ establish his own voice. How he handled the endless rejection, comparisons to his sister and a vicious media, these elements showed off the slings and arrows of fame. For someone wearing a daggy hair-style and funky clothes, as presented here, Carpenter’s life has been a quicksand of regret and frustrated ambitions. Whether any of this is based on actual fact is another thing, but Jones creates a complete persona of Richard Carpenter not many would have known or wished to see.
As a performer, Mathew Floyd Jones rarely put a foot wrong. His singing was great and his interaction with the enthusiastic audience was excellent. Many joined in the occasional sing-a-long moments with glee and more of this perhaps would have made for a better show. The moments featuring Carpenter struggling with his rage went off the beaten track to the point of being almost pretentiously self-indulgent. Also, certain emotional beats were repeated a little too often as to become a bit dull. But overall Matthew Floyd Jones presented a unique version of a man and the myth of the Carpenters allure. At times it felt the spectre of legal libel prevented the script from being truly savage about its subject but generally the song choices and presentation ultimately did justice to a somewhat sad tale.
Richard Carpenter Is Close To You is a strange concoction of fact and fiction. At times depressing and inspiring, it nevertheless was entertaining for the most part. Carpenters fans may be shocked at some of its revelations and I’m unsure if they’ll ever listen to their tunes the same way again. But all credit to Mathew Floyd Jones for breaking from predictable convention and not presenting a glorified karaoke concert. The show needs a bit more work to tighten the pacing but those wanting to get closer to the myth of Richard Carpenter may get more than they bargained for in this peculiar production.
Rating out of 5: 3
Reviewed by: Patrick Moore
Season: 8 – 10 June 2018
Duration: 1 hr.
Tickets: Premium – Adult: $41.90, A Reserve: Adult – $36.90, Concession – $31.90.
Bookings: Book online at www.bass.net.au or phone BASS on 131 246