As the unmistakable voice of Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax, Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody, Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon and the characters in more than 400 other titles, Barbara Rosenblat’s credentials as queen of the audiobook speak for themselves.
The only woman to win six Audie Awards, this multitalented, transatlantic character actress, singer and dancer has been on a wildly successful verbal run since she first heard her own voice on her uncle’s tape recorder as a child.
“It was like a Proustean moment. My life changed at that moment,” she recalls. “It’s like looking at your reflection in a mirror for the first time and seeing what you look like.”
Rosenblat admits that in her role as an audio narrator, she’s a stickler for preparation and reads her scripts “down to the letter.”
“Even if a book is not sterling, a good audio can elevate substandard material,” she says. “It’s movies for the ears.”
Rosenblat has created memorable audio performances of such diverse titles as Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary, Amistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series and Larry McMurtry’s Terms of Endearment. Little wonder she’s won 40 Golden Earphone awards from AudioFile magazine and been named its Voice of the Century.
Born in London to Holocaust survivors, the precocious Rosenblat grew up in New York City, the perfect incubator for her often-spontaneous, Annie-like public performances in city parks and street corners. Later, when she enrolled at City College in Harlem, she fell in with the musical comedy society and discovered a new medium for her vocal gifts: radio.
“I had a weekly radio show for three years called ‘Front Row Center.’ I got to see and review Broadway shows, interviewed people and played clips from different cast albums,” she recalls. Bitten by the acting bug, Rosenblat nevertheless took her father’s advice and earned certificates to teach English, theater and speech in New York City schools. She barely had time to use them.
“The first job I got was playing Yenta in a three-city dinner theater tour of Fiddler on the Roof in Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio,” she says. “I had more fun than a bucket full of bunnies.”
Versatility—and that marvelous, mellifluous voice—have kept Rosenblat in demand ever since, for a wide range of performing roles. On Broadway, she originated the part of Mrs. Medlock in the Tony Award-winning The Secret Garden and appeared in Eric Bogosian’s Talk Radio with Liev Schreiber. Her screen credits include Little Shop of Horrors, Reds, “Guiding Light,” “Law and Order SVU” and a number of BBC productions.
She provided the world-weary voice of Sal, the office manager, for those NPR car guys in the animated series “Click and Clack’s As the Wrench Turns,” and even voiced a Teutonic transsexual dope fiend in the classic videogame “Grand Theft Auto.” Last year, friends convinced her to audition for the singing, dancing role of Gertrude Stein in
27 Rue de Fleurus. She nailed it off-Broadway.
Still, audiobooks are where her star shines brightest. She often gets so into a performance that tissues have become a studio staple.
“I just did Anne Frank Remembered and at the end of it, we were all a mess, not a dry eye in the house,” she says. “On the other hand, when I recorded Sue Townsend’s The Queen and I, which is one of the funniest books I’ve ever done, I remember sitting in the studio with tissues all over the place, laughing myself hysterical.”
Rosenblat credits her “phonographic memory” with the ability to create and recreate a sometimes-unwieldy cast of characters. She’s up for another Audie this year for Katie MacAlister’s supernatural comedy Fire Me Up, in which she not only performs as libidinous guardian Aisling Grey, but her drowsy Newfoundland dog, Jim.
Does she ever carry accents home with her?
“No, but when I go back to England, I get straight back into the Brit thing. The same is true when I get in with a mix of Europeans; (with German accent) I will start to pick up little bits of what they’re doing and I can’t stop myself!” she chuckles. “I’ve had people say to me, Stop mocking! and I say, it’s not mocking, it’s research. I’m flexing. This is my gym; New York City is my gym. The New York subway is a microcosm of the world.”
Jay MacDonald writes quietly from Austin, Texas, but occasionally moves his lips.