Cynthia’s unusual voice has made her devotion to the spoken arts a natural fit. As a narrator, a veteran of 10 Broadway shows, countless Off-Broadway, regional theatre, film and television appearences, her characterizations and facility with dialects are unforgettable. Her wide range of skills and classical training allow her to transition easily from children’s books (Audie nomination, Headphone awards, 5 seasons with Children’s Television Workshop) to Shakespeare’s Sonnets and everything in between. Currently, she has a recurring role playing Mrs. Moskowitz in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel for Amazon Prime. (two Golden Globes, two Critic’s Choice Awards) She is a 23 year member of The Actors Company Theatre (TACT) whose mission it is to present concert performances of long-neglected, language-driven plays, and has been a part of The Actor’s Center in New York for 10 years
Humorous fare, a forte; clear contrasts of character and dialects, a specialty.
You have a tremendous resume of film, television, and Broadway performances. But we are celebrating Audiobook Month here, so we will focus on your performance of audiobooks today. How did you get started performing audiobooks?
I had recorded one children’s book when years later, I met my glorious husband, narrator Richard Ferrone. I thought I had gotten my foot in the door with Sheila Rae The Brave, but nothing really got going until Richard introduced me to Claudia Howard at Recorded Books.
How do you prepare in advance to perform an audiobook? Do you have any tricks that help you make your performing easier?
I’m told by other narrators that my preparation is frightening, but it works for me!
I draw two lines on a legal pad, creating three columns. Column 1 is for any pronunciations that need to be looked up, what page the the word is on, definitions, and the author’s notes about character names, if any. Column two is the page number of the first time each character appears in the book, the character’s name, and any physical descriptions made by the author, or what other characters say about that person. Column three is for casting my voices. I choose something that will jog my memory about how or who the character sounds like in my head. It could be a relative, another actor, or a random someone.
You began recording books in 1994. How has the world of recording
audiobooks changed since then?
Vastly! First of all, the technology has advanced at a crazy pace. Back then, there were just a handful of narrators doing the lion’s share of the work, only a few union contracts, and a much smaller market. Now it’s a billion dollar a year business, with way more union contracts, and a global market.
You are best known for your performances of the Murder, She Wrote books. Is there a challenge to performing a role made so famous and iconic by Angela Lansbury?
I was always amused that people expected a British accent for the Murder She
Wrote stories due to Angela’s heritage and the fact that I was recording them for the BBC, when in fact Jessica Fletcher hailed from Cabot Cove, Maine. I always feel the author must be served first. These were books, not TV episodes. However, since the TV series became so iconic, I did try to infuse some of Angela’s familiar warmth and energy in my depiction.
I fell in love with you when I heard you voice the Miss Julia books by Ann B. Ross. I am so impressed with your many voices that suit the wide range of characters, from the prim and stiff Miss Julia to the lower class Hazel Marie and the African African housekeeper Lillian. How do you determine what voices to give each character, and how do you keep them straight in your mind?
My trusty legal pad is right beside me in the booth. When a character appears in one chapter and doesn’t reoccur until several chapters later, I will ask my engineer to put a marker on that character, so it can easily be retrieved. I ‘ll listen to a sentence or two, and continue recording.
Accents reveal a lot about a person, not only where they come from but also their social class and education. How do you select each of your accents and learn new ones?
I return to the author. Often, as in the case of the Miss Julia series, the book is written in dialect. I have always “had an ear” as they say. I am fascinated by accents, and there are many wonderful tools to help learn anything new, either online or by watching films using a particular dialect.
What advice did you find especially helpful as you started out performing
audiobooks that you like to share with new narrators now?
Pay attention to the energy the author dictates, enunciate, breathe (only learn to turn your head away from the microphone when you do). Set up the beginnings and endings of each chapter, get plenty of rest, pamper that voice, stay hydrated.
What books from your varied audiobook career stand out to you as most memorable? Of which performances are you most proud?
I have loved some of the series I’ve recorded: Dearest Dorothy, The Red Hat Club, Miss Julia, these characters become like family members, I know them well and always enjoy a return visit. One of the performances I’m proud of would be Wally Lamb’s We Are Water. My husband and I both recorded segments of that book. We’d both be thrilled to record anything by this man!
I know I said we would focus on your audiobook career, but I can’t help asking about the fact that you were in the first cast to perform Grease on Broadway. What was that experience like?
Actually, not the first cast, but the original Broadway production. I did two
national tours, performed three years on Broadway, and was dance captain. I tried to stretch out my “rock n roll” days as long as I could! It was my first Broadway show, it gave me my union card, and I was in it when it became the longest running show on Broadway at that point. Those were wonderful times and we have a huge network of “Greasers” who stay in touch to this day. “We Go Together!”
What other narrators have you found inspiring in your own career?
All of my colleagues. There is no shortage of talent.
You can read more about Cynthia on the following sites: