Maluso, Blackson, Collins Team Up for Show

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Maureen Collins of Easy Street Productions and the piano-vocal duo of Mary Jo Maluso and Rick Blackson have worked alongside each other many times over the years.

Both Maluso and Blackson have appeared in Easy Street musicals and cabaret shows in their decades-long career.

But the three have never teamed up as a trio – until now.

On Oct. 13 and 14, the three will present Close to You: A Musical Salute to the Songs of The Carpenters. The cabaret show will take place at Easy Street’s studio, 865 Mahoning Ave., near downtown.

Both concerts will begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 and on sale now; call 330 743 8555. Seating will be cabaret style and will be limited to under 100 persons each night.

The Carpenters were the brother-sister act of Karen and Richard Carpenter, who produced a bevy of harmony-laced hits in the 1970s.

The show at Easy Street will feature just about every popular song by the act, including “Close to You,” “Yesterday Once More,” “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “Top of the World,” “Superstar,” “Rainy Days and Mondays,” “For All We Know” and “Goodbye to Love.”

The Carpenters’ brief but brilliant career ended with the untimely death of Karen, who suffered from anorexia nervosa, in 1983 at age 32.

As to why Collins, Maluso and Blackson took so long to put their voices together – well, the timing has never been right.

They’ve been so busy with their own careers over the years that the opportunity never came up.

It started when Collins, who had been teaching her young musical theater students since February, felt the need to try something different.

“Rather than doing another workshop, I wanted to sing, to use my voice again,” she says.

Easy Street has a Broadway-style dance show coming up in November and its annual Miracle on Easy Street revue in December, so it felt like a good time to get back on stage.

The three mesh well and have such a long history together that an inevitable question arose. “We asked ourselves, ‘Why aren’t we a trio?’,” Collins says.

They decided to put a show together.

“We wanted to do something that is self-contained, and the three of us love this music,” Collins continues. “When I leave rehearsals, I don’t stop singing Karen Carpenter songs. We are all major fans.”

Maluso and Blackson’s performance schedule is ramping up to pre-pandemic levels. But teaming with Collins feels like coming full-circle, Maluso says.

“We have a lot of history with Easy Street,” she says.

The intimacy of a studio concert appealed to her, as did the subject material.

“These were important songs for a lot of us [of this generation], and it’s special for the three of us to do this.”

It will be the opposite of an Easy Street show, which usually involves a full band, choreography, costumes, a cast that is usually  enormous, and a lot of moving parts.

“It’s nice to plan a show that isn’t a huge spectacle, where we can lean into the harmonies,” Maluso says. “It is relaxing [by comparison].”

The three have found they can recreate The Carpenters’ sound quite naturally and accurately, with either Collins or Maluso singing the lead, and the other two harmonizing on backup vocals.

Blackson will also provide all musical accompaniment with a digital keyboard.

Those who attend will be moved by the performance, Collins says.

“It’s going to be a goosebump night,” she says. “There is not a song that doesn’t sound authentic, because we have the extra voice [for harmonies].”

Blackson says The Carpenters’ harmonies were often sophisticated.

“You need at least three people,” he says. “It’s working very well.”

Blackson arranged the songs, incorporating all instrumentation into his keyboard playing, including strings and oboe.

Karen Carpenter had a wide vocal range, but between the two ladies of this trio, they have it covered.

“I have the low end, Mary Jo has the high end,” Collins says. “In those [high] moments, I will slip into the lower range, and you can’t even tell.”

The show will include between-song banter about the songs and the effortless beauty of Karen Carpenter’s talent.

“[Karen] would sing about the saddest things but in a joyous voice – and we’ll comment on that,” Collins says.

The show will be about 75 minutes and will not have an intermission. The atmosphere will be intimate and artsy.

“It will feel like a cabaret room in New York,” Maluso says, “and they can be tiny.”

She’ll have no trouble interpreting one particular Carpenters song.

“I have sung ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’ dozens of times at wedding receptions,” Maluso says. “I didn’t need any song notes for that one!”

Pictured at top: Mary Jo Maluso and Rick Blackson; Maureen Collins