When Cameron Macintosh approached Israeli singer David “Dudu” Fisher about playing the role of Jean Valjean on Broadway, the producer said he was particularly moved by Israeli audiences’ reaction to the song “Bring Him Home.”
“Cameron came to Israel to see the [“Les Miserables”] premiere,” Mr. Fisher, who played Jean Valjean in the Israeli production, said. “He came over to me, and he said, ‘When you sing, there is something in the air I can’t understand. I want you to bring this to America.’
“I explained that 99 percent of the people in the theater had somebody in the army,” or perhaps a friend or family member who had never come home. “I told him, ‘We live in the jungle. You never know what’s coming next.’”
The United States was not involved in any wars then, Mr. Fisher said. But after the U.S. military became involved in Iraq, “I sensed the same feeling in New York when I sang it. The people were praying with me.”
Born in Petach Tikvah in 1951, Mr. Fisher — who performed his multimedia autobiographical show “Jerusalem” for sold-out audiences at the Museum of Jewish Heritage this week — is the son of a Holocaust survivor and a mother who attributes his safe delivery to a note from the Lubavitcher rebbe. He is the father of three, grandfather of six, and now, in his second marriage, is expecting a new baby. He and his wife will take the baby with them when they travel, he said.
After many years, Mr. Fisher left his home in Tel Aviv and now lives “right above the Sea of Galilee, like in Switzerland,” he said. “It’s a place where you can create.
“I have so many projects. I sit outside and look at the green Galilee.”
Mr. Fisher, who studied at the Tel Aviv Academy of Music as well as privately under several renowned cantors, became cantor of Tel Aviv’s Great Synagogue while he was still in his early 20s, moving from there to spend four years in South Africa. For more than 20 years, he was the High Holiday cantor at Kutsher’s Hotel in the Catskills, and later he became the chief cantor at the Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach, New York, and at the New York Synagogue in Manhattan.
So is he a cantor first and a performer second? Maybe once, but not now.
“I used to be a cantor who sang only Yiddish and cantorial music on stage,” Mr. Fisher said. “Now that is my side job.” He will be the High Holiday chazzan in Chicago this year for the third time, “and I hope for many years.”
His relationship with “Les Miz” — the show that launched his stage career — is of particular note in his life. After being “mesmerized” by a performance of the show in London, Mr. Fisher, then a young singer with no acting experience, auditioned for the role of Jean Valjean in a Hebrew production. He won the role, and played it to rave reviews from 1987 to 1990.
Following his stint on Broadway, he reprised the role on London’s West End and subsequently was invited to perform before Queen Elizabeth II.
And what do you sing for a queen?
“You sing what they tell you to sing,” he joked, “but it was an amazing experience. They brought in people who sang star roles from ‘Les Miz’ from all over the world. Eponine was Japanese, and there were singers from Hungary and London, each one singing in their own language. To my honor, Cameron Macintosh chose me to represent all Jean Valjeans.”
Fisher also has racked up some impressive firsts in his career. He was the first performer excused from Friday night and Saturday performances in New York and London because, as an Orthodox Jew, he could not perform on Shabbat. In addition, he was the first Israeli artist allowed to sing in the Soviet Union before perestroika. He notes on his website that his concerts “were attended by thousands of Jews thirsting for Jewish culture. A particularly moving concert took place in my father’s hometown of Dubnow in the Ukraine.”
According to the international performer, “When Cameron Macintosh offered me the role on Broadway, I said I’d love to do it, it would be the fulfillment of my wishes, but it was not possible because I’m an observant Jew. He tried to understand, but said, ‘This is not work. You’re just onstage singing.’”
“I told him that there are things in life more important than my career.” Being away so often, “I need to be home at least on Friday to be with my family. He probably understood.” He must have, since Fisher went on to sing the role not only on Broadway but all over the world.
“It opened up doors,” he said. “Thank God it worked out all right.”
“Jerusalem” is not Mr. Fisher’s first one-man show. He already performed “Never on Friday,” exploring the complications of working on Broadway as an observant Jew. He also has visited Jewish communities throughout the world, performing both Yiddish and Hebrew songs as well as Broadway show tunes.
Each November, Mr. Fisher takes his show to Branson, Mo. He is encouraged by Christian evangelist Victoria Hurst, “who supports Israel and donates a lot of money,” he said. “She invited me to a show in Colorado, and afterward someone said I should come see Branson. The next morning I went there and saw 100 theaters. Eight million tourists come to see shows. The variety is amazing. When I went to see a show and it was announced that there was a guest from Israel, 700 people gave me a standing ovation.” His latest PBS program was filmed in Branson and aired in August 2014.
Mr. Fisher has performed in a wide range of musicals and has treasured the experience, but he is still most attached to the character of Jean Valjean, “not that ‘Fiddler’ is so terrible, but Jean Valjean was my first theater role, so I’m really attached to it.
“I knew I could do it without one acting lesson. I could play the role because he was so much like me — a religious man, who trusts in God. All through the show he doesn’t move without consulting God. I’ve had such a wonderful journey with this musical. Others are great, but this is the cherry on the cake.”
Of course, he added, he might also like to play Don Quixote in “Man of La Mancha.”
Mr. Fisher recalled that 30 years ago, when he performed in Argentina, “people expected a lot of Yiddish. But now, I’m told that one song is enough.” He believes, though, that Yiddish will be kept alive through its use in the Orthodox community .
His “Jerusalem” was written six years ago, though it has undergone some changes. “For me,” he said, “Jerusalem is the center of everything. The energy of the world is rolling because of Jerusalem.” So too, he said, the energy he gets personally is from that city.
“I call it ‘Jerusalem’ because of the energy I get when I visit,” Mr. Fisher said. “I used to live there, listening to the music of mosques, churches, and synagogues. Everything comes from this place. When I’m walking in the streets of Sydney, Russia, or New York, I’m carrying in my shoe heels a piece of Jerusalem and trying to spread it around.
“People should know that it’s a peaceful place. There are some crazy people, but you can’t say it’s not safe anymore.”