If you’re going to front a Karen Carpenter tribute, you can only do it if you have a truly breathtaking voice, the kind of voice that makes you believe in God.
A good voice, or a great voice, won’t cut it; it has to be a voice that will send tears tumbling down your face, as you listen to ‘Rainy Days and Mondays’ before torpedoing you seconds later into the unfettered joy of 1960s technicolour, via ‘Please Mr Postman’ and ‘Top of the World’.
If Karen Carpenter is the apex of the human singing voice in all its highways, byways and dank rivers of expression, Toni Lee is up there in the early 92-94th percentile.
Toni Lee stood centre stage at Cork Opera House, in front of her six-piece band, wearing copies of outfits worn by Karen in the video reels that ran on a projector behind Lee.
I spent the first five minutes of the show squinting at the real Karen (who died from anorexia at age 32, in 1983) and checking her weight as the video jumped between frames. But it didn’t last long.
Lee, with her love of all things Carpenter, swept me, and the rest of the audience, along with that voice, which can transform from Valrhona chocolate to Hubba Bubba in two chord changes.
Throughout the ‘Close to You’ show, Toni told stories about Karen (her emergence from behind the drums, ascent to international stardom, and the enormously positive role of her brother and fellow Carpenter, Richard), but the tragedy that was a young life cut short permeated the three hours.
Lee’s renditions of ‘Yesterday Once More’, ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’ and ‘Close to You’ were like journeying into Karen’s soul.
The show was sold out weeks in advance, as this was Toni’s second trip to Cork. Within half an hour, I knew why. Would I go again? You betcha.
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