Photo Credit: D. Sabella

Kenneth Gartman
“When In Rome”
Don’t Tell Mama
Jan 28, Feb 1, & March 11, 2019, 7pm

Kenneth Gartman is charming, and performs with both the slick sheen of a showman and the sincerity of a story teller. In his show “When In Rome” he takes us on a traveling journey, spanning several countries and languages. And, just like when traveling abroad for an extended period of time, by the time his journey is through, you’re happy you went, and glad to be back home.

Also credited as the Musical Arranger, Gartman shows a playful musicianship with interesting arrangements, that serve his soaring tenor voice well, including his rollicking version of Roam (Catherine Pierson, Fred Schneider, Keith Strickland, Robert Waldrop, & Cynthia Wilson), coupled with Come Fly With Me (Jimmy Van Heusen, Sammy Cahn).

Kenneth Gartman

A former opera singer, and native Texan, Gartman is equally at home when singing in English, Spanish, or French. And, due to the structure of his show, his use of these languages was completely coherent to the story-telling. This authentic use of language, and phrasing, is evident in songs like Solamente Una Vez (Augustin Lara), Cuando Estas Conmigo (Abelardo Vazquez Ramos), and La Vie En Rose (Louiguy, Piaf), all sung with great stylistic care.

Another favorite of mine is Gartman’s rendition of Welcome to Nowhere (David Yazbek, from The Band’s Visit). I did not think this song would work out of context of the show, and I am happy to be proven wrong. This song also provided a glimpse of Gartman’s playful side, as he went up on the lyrics at first, and recovered with charm and poise, of course.

Lady of Spain (Tolchard Evans, Erell Reaves), paired with Bizet’s Habanera (From Carmen) was built to be the eleven o’clock showstopper, and it was indeed fun, with Gartman utilizing his falsetto to sing the Habanera in the correct octave, and ample resonance. And, at the same time, this comic devise almost broke the suspension of disbelief for me. And, although impressive, it seemed in some way to “jump the shark.” (SIDE NOTE – As readers may know, I am no stranger to this use of voice, having sung in my falsetto voice with both La Gran Scena Opera Company, and as a international countertenor in opera, and on Broadway.) I explain this to affirm that, in my opinion, Gartman’s falsetto sound is as opulent as any countertenor I have heard. And still, this fun, campy moment seemed a little out of place in what was otherwise a very well-thought-out, charming evening.

Rebounding well, Gartmen returned to elegance  with a New York Medley, which included Take me Back to Manhattan (Cole Porter), Autumn In New York (Vernon Duke), and Empire State of Mind (Alicia Keys, Shawn Carter, Janet Sewell, Angela Hunte, Al Shuckburgh, Bert Keys, and Sylvia Robinson – Whew!). And ended with a beautiful national tribute including America The Beautiful (Samuel A Ward, Katharine Lee Bates), This Land is Your Land (Woody Guthrie), and God Bless America (Irving Berlin), which majestically returned us to the good old USA.