Lenne Hardt

by Vivienne Kenrick

More than one organization for which she works calls Lenne Hardt “the best female narrator in Tokyo.” She is much in demand by entertainment agents who regard her as being unique locally for her range of voices, knowledge of the industry, consummate professionalism and fluency in English and Japanese.

Although she can, with flair, do all the different work that comes her way, Lenne says of herself, “Working live in front of a live audience is what I do best.” She has done her best now in well over 100 stage performances.

When she sings, she is powerful and passionate. In speech she is quick-fire and exact. In life she is energetic, enthusiastic and imaginative.

“I was the youngest of six children covering a wide age range,” she said. “I was always their entertainer.”

Her mother encouraged Lenne in her talent for performing, “perhaps living vicariously through me, doing what she would like to have done. My father was more practical.” The family lived remotely in the northwest of America. All the children were schooled at home, with Lenne at age 6 beginning her career in singing, acting and general performing. At 16, she enrolled in her local community college. At 17, she came to Japan to stay for a year.

“My brother, much older than I, was here and married,” Lenne said. “I came to see Japanese theater, every kind, and to begin the language. When I returned to enter New York University, I studied Japanese arts and speech communication, did summer stock theater and movie work. Then after graduation I came back to Japan, 16 years ago.”

Lenne met her husband, a New Zealander, in Tokyo. She quickly found employment in radio broadcasting here. She worked for Bay FM in Chiba, and NHK and InterFM in Tokyo, a position that proved particularly demanding at the time of the Kobe earthquake.

Her repertoire expanded as she became known. Nothing asked of her daunts her. Her range of character voices stretches from the requirements of highway kiosk navigational aids to those of Sony PlayStation’s international titles. Hers is the voice heard in the U.S. on Toshiba’s car navigation system.

“I do every kind of character you can think of, from a Gypsy to a young Japanese boy to a witch,” Lenne said. “Many of the characters are nasty, which is more fun.”

Her narrations, which span subjects, styles and forms, are used for English-language products here. Currently she is the ringside announcer for the martial arts event Pride. “This is the one that makes me worry abut my voice getting hoarse,” she said.

Lenne’s company, Encore Planning and Production Inc., provides services to suit small private parties, large corporate functions and anything in-between. She said: “It specializes in giving events a twist of artistic flavor and color. It energizes them.” She undertakes the planning of corporate training programs, promotional campaigns and directing the management of functions and acting as emcee for them.

Lenne finds her ideal setting at The Tokyo Comedy Store, an impromptu group that puts on shows in Roppongi. There she has liberty to improvise, and to respond in full voice to her live audience, who go especially to hear her sing.

Additionally, Lenne has a new venture. She has created a jazz band. “I just decided I wanted to begin a band,” she said.

From her home and her husband and her exacting professional work, Lenne squeezes time for volunteer contributions to others. She keeps the homeless in mind, giving benefit concerts to raise money to help them. She takes her turn in directing Tokyo’s Theater for Children in their shows.

Over the years she has appeared several times on stage for Tokyo International Players, most memorably appearing as a singing nun in “Nunsense.”

Now she is directing “Fiddler on the Roof” for TIP, a production she is taking very seriously.

She said: “It is the 40th anniversary of this play’s opening on Broadway. The real story behind the presentation is not to be trivialized, about the poor Jewish milkman and anti-Semitism in his village in czarist Russia.”

Critics have hailed “Fiddler on the Roof” as “one of the greatest works of the American musical theater . . . exuberant, touching, funny and wonderful.”

Under Lenne’s direction, TIP will stage six shows of this musical production from May 13 to 16 at Sun Mall Theater, Shinjuku.

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