Kenneth Gartman

. . . Not Like the Other Caveman

Don't Tell Mama
New York, NY
Since arriving in New York from his native Texas in 2000, Kenneth Gartman has made a nice little career for himself working as an actor/singer, arranger, musical director and vocal coach. But heading into 2011, he still hadn’t performed his own cabaret show, so he decided to try something bold to accelerate that goal. He launched one of those Kickstarter internet campaigns where you raise money—mostly from friends and family—to fund a project. If you don’t hit the fundraising goal, you get squat. It’s like going for that extra dough on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and losing it all if you blow that last question. Gartman’s number was $6,000 and 92 people funded him with $665 extra to tip the Don’t Tell Mama staff. Gartman’s backers can rest assured that it was money well spent.

His debut show  . . . Not Like the Other Cavemen, was all about him revealing aspects of his life and personality—whether it was expressing his sexual identity, his search for spirituality, his relationships or his struggles with weight—with songs that alternated between joyful and introspective, with a little church gospel coloring thrown in for good measure. Gartman’s vocals were consistently strong, his style less reminiscent of the powerful Broadway leading man than that of the lead in a big studio animated film.

Right off the bat, he wanted his audience to know he was a voice to be reckoned with and he accomplished that on David Friedman’s “There Is Life,” and the Todd Alsup/Steve Greenwell song, “I Feel.” After a jaunty rendition of Peter Mills’s comic song about sexual identity, “Way Ahead of My Time” (aka “The Caveman Song,” during which he whipped out a leopard scarf to wrap around his neck), Gartman related being 13, putting on a pink dress and lip synching the songs of the great Christian music singer Sandi Patty. Of course, he then demonstrated that childhood skill to howls of laughter from the Mama audience before delivering a powerful version of Patty’s “Upon This Rock” (Dick & Melodie Tunney).

The rest of the set featured a combination of powerful ballads (Friedman’s “Catch Me” and Jason Robert Brown’s “Hear My Song”), personal statements, both playful and poignant including “Crowded Island” (Stephen Schwartz), “The Morning After” (Goldrich & Heisler), “I Eat” (Brian Lasser) and “Say That’s Okay” (a self-help song written for Gartman by Cassandra Kubinski), and spiritual messages, such as Karen Drucker’s “Let It Shine.” For his encore, Gartman was stirring on Jeff Kennedy’s “Pillar of Fire,” making it clear that the church is still a powerful force in his life.

Director Shawn Moninger and Musical Director Doyle Newmyer helped construct a show that flowed almost seamlessly (except for a “Thank You for Being a Friend”/“You’ve Got a Friend” medley that could have been cut). And lights and sound director, Denise Andersen, did a particularly superb job lighting the show, especially on the more spiritual numbers.

Kenneth Gartman may not be like the other cavemen, but he’s also not like your average cabaret performer. If this debut performance is a cave painting sign of things to come, he won’t have to hit people over the head with a club and drag them to future performances.

Kenneth Gartman will be performing additional shows at Don’t Tell Mama on October 23 at 8pm and October 28 at 9:15.

Stephen Hanks
Cabaret Scenes
September 14, 2011