Club Review: “Off the Charts with Martha Bartz”

January 3, 2023 | By

Professionally known as a mezzo soprano classical concert and oratorio soloist, Martha Bartz is a newcomer to cabaret, and welcome to her!  She’s enthusiastic and she hired some of the best arrangers in the business—Alex Rybeck and Christopher Denny among them—and Jeff Harnar as her director. 

However, Off The Charts with Martha Bartz lent the mistaken impression that Bartz had a lot more experience with cabaret performing. The show title was about using charts and  the singer’s explanation was not very clear or intriguing for that matter; she should have left the interpretation up to the audience. The show, overall, was a little puzzling. Bartz seemed distracted when she came to the stage, and also seemed thrown when the audience didn’t react to her opening number, “The Pregnancy Song” (Robert Lopez, Kristen Anderson-Lopez), which was very funny and naughty. Some of the songs that followed were fun choices and not frequently heard, always  a blessing in a cabaret show. Still, “The Best is Yet to Come” (Cy Coleman, Carolyn Leigh) was something we hear a lot. I don’t really understand why it was in the show, or why it was placed so early in the show. 

This leads me to the major problem. I asked myself, “Where is the theme?” The repertoire was all over the map. The lack of a theme is a very risky choice for a newcomer. It is possible to set a theme and not speak about it at all if you’re not inclined towards patter. I’ve seen it done. And a theme can be fascinating. Just a few short words of introduction, and the world is your oyster! 

I commend Bartz for trying to take on “Vodka” (George Gershwin, Otto Harbach, Oscar Hammerstein), however, this is a song that requires a ton of investment and embellishment and frankly, experience. There are many reasons why it is rarely performed. For one thing, it’s very tough for anyone to follow Dorothy Loudon’s singular performance at the 1983 Tony Awards, and that was almost 40 years ago!

Martha came very much alive in a duet of “Fine” (Adam Gwon) with her music director and accompanist, Dr. Mory Ortman. The comic song had terrific interaction and Martha’s comedy chops were on full, fabulous display.

Ortman then delivered an emotionless, hurried performance of a beautiful modern pop song, “End of the World” (Matt Alber). The song is lush and thoughtful and sexy and he simply rushed through it. 

Bartz shone in most of the comedy numbers, and chose to perform the Jo Stafford and Paul Weston comedy bit: Darlene and Jonathan Edwards. This duo entertained past fans as an off-key, rhythm-challenged singer and her equally challenged accompanist. For some reason, Ortman seemed not to go along with the act, playing the music pretty much without any of the comic embellishments. This left Martha to carry this off all by herself. 

Martha Bartz has a very sweet stage presence—she’s like a good ol’ gal—and after seeing her do a couple of songs that landed really well and learning that she really loves, and is good at, comedy, I would say she has it in her to create a great show. I hope she continues to work on that. She needs to work on the integration of her various “voices” as well. She has a wide vocal range, but has not yet blended all the breaks. That needs work. 

The singer was accompanied on bass by Steve Doyle with Ron Tierno on drums.

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Presented at Green Room 42, 570 Tenth Ave. on September 30 and October 21;  at Don’t Tell Mama, 343 W. 46th St. on December 21, 2022.

Category: News / Reviews / Commentary, Reviews

About the Author ()

Though now Betsyann Faiella is known in New York primarily as a publicist, she came to that profession from two previous careers that contributed to her love of promoting creative people: as a working singer and as a media producer. She made her cabaret debut at the legendary Reno Sweeney. She was the lead singer in a band with Lewis Friedman, the impresario of both Reno Sweeney and s.n.a.f.u. Later she performed in such other iconic venues as Birdland, Blue Note, the Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles, and Ronnie Scott's in London. She appeared in concert with jazz legends Hank Jones and Paul Smith and performed at arts centers and universities around the country.

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