9 September 2015 | joe-pearce-1
Jose Ferrer Really Could Sing!
It may be forgotten now, but for a half-decade (approximately 1949 to 1956) Jose Ferrer was a MAJOR Hollywood star and considered one of our great actors. An Academy Award for his never-again-equaled Cyrano de Bergerac, starring appearances in MOULIN ROUGE, MISS SADIE THOMPSON, THE CAINE MUTINY, DEEP IN MY HEART, THE SHRIKE (all major films) and others prove this, but his movie "star" diminished and he later played mainly character roles in films (most notably in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA), while starring on Broadway, directing both films and stage productions, etc.
On the stage in later years he starred in MAN OF LA MANCHA and, although I can't find a reference to it right now, I recall his being announced to sing the lead in Puccini's comic opera GIANNI SCHICCHI, the latter possibly in Santa Fe. This surprised me as the only times I had heard him sing (as Sigmund Romberg in DEEP IN MY HEART, and on a record and in a TV appearance or two with then-wife Rosemary Clooney) he sounded like he mainly 'talked out' a song and could just about carry a tune. I missed this TV production of KISMET in 1967 and saw it for the first time last night. And surprise! surprise! Ferrer COULD sing, and quite well. His singing voice is very much his speaking voice (the same could be said for Ezio Pinza), but it is musical and he really does sing rather than just talk out his pieces. Furthermore, when he has to go for a top note, he gets a certain 'legitimate' and near-operatic quality into such notes. He'll never be mistaken for Robert Merrill, but he was really quite good as the beggar-turned-emir Haji, and acting wise, it was probably the most over-the-top performance of his since his fabled Cyrano (stage and film versions).
This TV production, though somewhat cut down to fit a 90-minute TV format, is very enjoyable throughout. Barbara Eden is hilarious and almost flamboyantly sexy as the Wazir's wife who lusts for every guy in sight but especially for Haji, this not quite expected from the ever-charming but comparatively laid back star of I DREAM OF JEANNIE. She's an excellent dancer, and owns a near-Merman-sized singing voice! Alberghetti is perfect as Haji's daughter, and she was kind of funny in a way because she speaks perfect American English throughout, but seems to always have a slight accent when she sings. Doretta Morrow on Broadway was the essence of young femininity in this role: Alberghetti came close, which is a high compliment from me, as I loved Morrow.(I recall Alberghetti's initial TV appearances as a 14-year-old soprano in 1950; it looked like she might have a terrific career in Opera, but she chose - wisely, probably - to go into musical theater and straight acting. She won a Tony for CARNIVAL.) And my only experience with Chakiris as a singer was in the film WEST SIDE STORY, where his singing is not very notable, especially in comparison to his dancing, but he also shows a pretty solid and 'legitimate' voice ranging between high baritone and low tenor (very similar to Richard Kiley's in the original 1953 stage production of KISMET). Hans Conried, excellent as always as a comically murderous Wazir, rather makes you sorry that this character must be killed off in the end, but in keeping with the situation, he dies in a comical way.
Anyway, I found this a totally enjoyable viewing experience and only wish it could have been given more air time in order to see the musical presented in complete form. But mostly I enjoyed it because it dispelled my impression that Jose Ferrer couldn't sing. He could, he could!