Kati Neiheisel’s YESTERDAY…ONCE MORE: A Review

Yesterday… Once More, the outstanding new one-woman show by MAC Award-nominated singer Kati Neiheisel at New York City’s Pangea, is inspired by the 1973 hit song by The Carpenters. The song is the duo’s biggest-selling record worldwide, and was specifically pointed out by Richard Carpenter to be his favorite of all the songs that he had written.  In three simple words, Yesterday…Once More says so much about Neiheisel’s respectfully loving yet uniquely original take on the many, many timeless songs of the legendary brother and sister duo.  To state the obvious, these songs sound just as good if not better than they did “yesterday”, thanks to Karen Carpenter’s flawless voice and the ageless appeal of the songs themselves… and, thanks to Kati Neiheisel’s creative vision and talent, they are ready to be enjoyed “once more”…  

Appropriately enough, the show opened with the aforementioned Yesterday, Once More, in which Neiheisel incorporated her own personal stories into the music.  This couldn’t be more fitting, because even the singer’s speaking voice is musical in itself as she recalled her own relationship with the Carpenters’ music, starting in childhood.  If the first litmus test of live performance is to engage the audience from that very first note, Neiheisel excels with graceful gusto.  She is clearly beautiful, and her voice matches her appearance.  But while Neiheisel’s vocals do occasionally sound astonishingly like Karen’s famous contralto “vox”, Neiheisel certainly doesn’t aim for imitation– not by a long shot.  Karen, for all we know in retrospect, was a notorious perfectionist who rarely deviated from her patently mannered performance structure.  Ms. Neiheisel honors Karen’s commitment to perfection, but it’s obvious from the opening number that she adds a dash of artistic freedom, enhanced by her interactions with her three easy-on-the-eyes male musicians and her live audience.   Neiheisel’s interpretation of the songs is more empowered and hopeful rather than fragile and delicate.  Knowing what we learned (albeit reluctantly) about Karen Carpenter’s own personal demons, I’ll be bold enough to say that the talented Neiheisel sings with the level of confidence that our beloved Karen wished she had… or maybe that WE wished she had.  (I’ll also be bold enough to say that Kati’s lush version of For All We Know, my favorite Carpenters song after Masquerade, is better than the original.)  As a result, 1971’s Hurting Each Other becomes less of a song about romantic victimization and more of a call for equal treatment in the rough game of love.  Her jazzy take on Rainy Days and Mondays from 1971 is filled with more hope than melancholy; As Kati croons the song’s delicious line, “Funny, but it seems I always wind up here with you…”, it is not so much sad but more with an undertone of, “Hey, I’m feeling a little down, you’re feeling a little down… so why not get together and make each other happy? (Wink, wink, wink!)”  

Given The Carpenters’ extensive list of hits, Neiheisel has no shortage of crowd-pleasing material to deliver to her audience. If the original Superstar from 1971 (A song, incidentally, that Richard originally believed was too “racy” for Karen) still sends chills up our spines, Neiheisel’s version truly penetrates our souls.  The singer also hits some amazingly impressive notes with 1969’s All I Can Do, which she and her band turn into an up-tempo romp.  Later on, when her three musicians take a brief musical pause during the opening of 1972’s Goodbye To Love, the power of Neiheisel’s raw voice alone is no less than intense.  1973’s pop culture gem Top of the World, the only FDA-approved aural antidepressant, is appropriately joyous, while Now has the somber distinction of being the last song that Karen recorded– in 1982.  It was impossible for the audience not to have an emotional reaction from this one.

In between the 14 songs, Kati Neiheisel also offers much fascinating trivia about The Carpenters and their legacy on American and world music.  Many of us may already know that We’ve Only Just Begun is the most popular song chosen for weddings, but what many of us at Pangea that night did NOT know was that Karen and Richard were extraordinarily wonderful to their fans.  In addition, many may not have known that Karen and Richard lent their voices and sometimes even their image to commercials, ranging from a local Dallas, Texas ad for potato chips to a seemingly intentional corny jingle for Japanese soda (“Suntory Pop”!).  In a delightfully creative touch, Neiheisel brings those commercials to life, throwing in as high camp as one can fit into 30 seconds.   

And yes,  there was an encore!  I won’t reveal what song was chosen for the closer of the night, except to say that Neiheisel turns the ageless megahit into a lush, jazzy treat that’s more feverishly romantic than the somewhat syrupy original.  

Throughout the entire running time of Yesterday… Once More, Kati Neiheisel didn’t deliver a single note or make a movement on stage which was any less than flawless. Out of the endless classic songs that Kati sings new life into, perhaps the most emblematic was You from 1976.  With lyrics like “You are the crowd that sits quiet, Listening to me”, it is crystal clear that the piece was oh-so-obviously Karen Carpenter’s love song to those aforementioned fans whom she cared so much about.  As Neiheisel gave incredible justice to the original version, she also conveyed the same message to her audience in Pangea’s intimate space.  This music may have been from “yesterday”, but Kati Neiheisel is a performer you’ll want to see and hear “once more”… and once more, and once more, and once more…

Yesterday… Once More is Directed by Lina Koutrakos with Musical Direction by Gregory Toroian. The band is Gregory Toroian on piano, Skip Ward on bass, and David Silliman on drums.  The final performance will be Sunday, December 5th at Pangea, 178 2nd Avenue, New York City.  Call (212) 995-0900 or visit www.Pangea,com/reservations for tickets.  Visit www.KatiNeiheisel.com for more!

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