RED BANK: TRIBUTES TO CARPENTERS & MORE

Close To YouLisa Rock (center) and her band pay homage to the 1970s pop hits of The Carpenters in the stage show ‘Close to You,’ coming Thursday to the Count Basie. Jenna O’Gara (below) is among the singers going Back to the Eighties with Jessie’s Girl in a Friday night concert.   

Jenna O'Gara Jessie's GirlIt’s a non-alternative fact that some of the most legendary names in the music business — the Beatles, ABBA, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead — have plied their trade on the boards of Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre, represented (in spirit if not flesh) by a bold new breed of note-perfect, big budget traveling tribute extravaganzas.

Following on the heels of a weekend that saw the annual appearance of the ever-popular Elvis Birthday Bash (and a genuinely star-studded, sold-out recreation of The Band’s Last Waltz concert), the Basie keeps the tributes going this Thursday and Friday with some spot-on salutes to the 1970’s pop of The Carpenters, as well as the superstars (Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince) who defined the MTV era of the 1980s.

Unabashedly staking out a corner of the pop landscape that was closer to the previous generation’s “easy listening” than the more electrified revolutions of the Age of Aquarius, the sibling act of Karen and Richard Carpenter ruled the AM airwaves with a series of alternately heartwarming and heartbreaking hits that included “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “Rainy Days and Mondays,” “Close to You,” “Superstar” and “Sing.” Far from being dismissed in our snarky age, the music of the tragic Ms. Carpenter continues to be embraced and cherished for its non-ironic sentiments, crystal-clear singing and emotional sincerity.

A playwright as well as a performer with an uncanny vocal resemblance to Karen Carpenter, Lisa Rock leads a six-piece band plus backup singers in Close To You – The Music of the Carpenters. The international touring show (which has recorded a couple of albums of its own) makes its Count Basie debut on Thursday, delivering all of the expected hits plus some deeper explorations of the Carpenters’ legacy. Take it here for tickets ($25 – $39) to the 7:30 p.m. event.

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While you’ll never be wanting for live renditions of 1980’s hits faithfully recreated by professional cover bands here in our neck of the Jersey Shore, the traveling show known as Jessie’s Girl takes it up a notch on Friday with a cast of performers dressed up as the 80’s incarnations of Michael, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper and young Jon Bon Jovi — plus a set list that touches upon everything from Starship’s “We Built This City” and George Michael’s “Faith,” to the Rick Springfield smash that represents the show’s title tune. It’s a full-length set of dress-up fun, with epic levels of neon spandex and hair spray that’s pitched as “theatre, meets live music, smothered in 80’s glitz.”

A bandstand of lead singers that includes “up and coming superstar” Jenna O’Gara, “Off Broadway’s” Chris Hall and Sting impersonator Mark Rinzel fronting a tight four-piece combo of pros in a presentation that’s drawn faithful crowds to New York’s Canal Room (where surprise guest performers have included such period-perfect personalities as MC Hammer, Debbie Gibson, Bret Michaels and Taylor Dane).

Take it here for tickets ($15 – $35) — then go here for details on more upcoming attractions on the Basie boards, including a Decades Rewind tribute to the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s on February 18, Bruce Hornsby with Ricky Skaggs (February 27), and Pat Benatar with Neal Giraldo (March 7).