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B. J. Ward: She Talks A Good Show

March 13, 1987|DON HECKMAN

The voice at the Disneyland ride is honey-smooth and reassuring: "Please step off the moving platform carefully."

Other voices leap into our ears from Saturday-morning television:

Strong fighting woman: "Look out, Joe! He's over there behind that rock!"

Sweet animal: "Gosh, honey-bear, do you think we'll get to the party on time?"

Crusty character: "Sure an' begorra that pot of gold's right there--at the end of that rainbow!"

And every voice--male and female, young and old, quirky and straight--is the product of the talent, and the larynx, of actress/singer B. J. Ward.

Tonight, Ward--one of Los Angeles' premiere voice actresses--will bring all her characters, as well as her strong, Broadway-trained singing voice, to the Gardenia Club in Hollywood for a two-night cabaret engagement.

Interviewed in her sunny Sherman Oaks home earlier this week, the petite Ward spoke gratefully of the voice-over and cartoon work that allows her to do the theater and cabaret appearances that are so dear to her.

Like most voice performers, her conversation was liberally sprinkled with asides from the many personalities who lurk around the corners of her mind.

"In a cartoon session," she said, "the producer's entitled to get three different voices from you. And if the circumstances demand it, those voices can be anything from an infant girl to an old man.

"If you're a woman, you have to be able to do kids--both boys and girls, since they mostly use women for boys' voices. I'm good at the young leading lady--the kind who's sweet, with authority. But when you've got to have a witch, you need a sort of dumb, bubble-headed type, and you have to be able to do all the usual accents--English, French, Scottish, Irish, Southern."

Ward's cartoon work alone has demanded those voices and much more. Her credits for just the past few years include the roles of Wonder Woman in "Super Friends," Scarlet in "G. I. Joe," three ponies in "My Little Pony," various characters in "The Centurians," "Sectaurs," "The Flintstone Kids" and "Pound Puppies," and all the female voices in "Voltron."

In addition, she does the many recorded voices that soothingly persuade and instruct us at Disneyland, Disney World and Epcot Center, and she can be heard in a long string of commercials.

Ward's career has been a roller-coaster ride since she arrived in New York in the '60s eager to work on the musical stage. "I came into town knowing nothing--zero," she recalled. "But the first play I saw was 'The Fantasticks,' and I was instantly determined to do the show. So I looked up the producer's name in the phone book, called him up and said, 'Look, you don't know me, but I'm Betty Jean Ward from Delaware, and I'm perfect for your show!'

"I guess I was lucky he didn't hang up on me. He just said, 'Send me a picture and a resume,' and I said, 'What's a resume?' "

Ward didn't waste any time finding out the answer to that question and ". . . after much, much hounding, and many callbacks" she finally got the lead part of The Girl in the long-running hit musical.

But marriage to busy musician/arranger Donn Trenner brought her to Los Angeles in the mid-'60s and to the beginning of a career that has ranged from back-up singing for Ann-Margret and Raquel Welch to Stephen Sondheim musicals ("Merrily We Roll Along"), the Groundlings and, of course, a full cast of Saturday-morning cartoon characterizations.

"What I really want now," she said, "is to get very good at doing my cabaret act. Everything that's in little pieces in the other things I do--the voice-overs, the cartoon characters, the musical theater parts--comes together in my cabaret act."

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