'Jerusalem' goes to the Bible Belt

Israeli singer Dudu Fisher takes one-man show about the Holy Land to Branson, Missouri.

Dudu Fisher 521 (photo credit: Israel Bardugo)
Dudu Fisher 521
(photo credit: Israel Bardugo)
If anything, Israeli singer Dudu Fisher says he wants to cut down his workload. With a career that spans more than 30 years and covers several continents, the 60- year-old performer, who spends three-quarters of his time abroad, wants to spend more time with his family in Israel. And yet he has just ventured into new territory in Branson, Missouri, in the heart of the American Bible Belt, and he couldn’t be more excited about it.
Recently returned from Poland, where he participated in the annual March of the Living, Fisher spent a week in Israel before heading off to Branson to perform his one-man show Jerusalem from May 1 to 20.
For Fisher the March of the Living, Jerusalem and the Christian world are all intertwined. Fisher’s father is a Holocaust survivor who, along with 16 members of his family, was saved by a Christian family in Poland. Later honored as Righteous Gentiles, Alfred and Maria Kwarchak hid the Jewish family in a bunker for 18 months during the war.
This year’s March of the Living was particularly moving, says Fisher, as the group that went to Poland included 15 US Army veterans who had taken part in liberating the concentration camps. Now in their 90s, the men were dressed in full uniform for the special ceremony held in Krakow. As they took to the stage, they received a standing ovation that lasted for 10 minutes.
And when the band played the American national anthem, the men snapped to attention and saluted.
They stood so straight and saluted with such precision that they looked like 19-year-olds again, says Fisher.
But the most emotional part was when a man who had been liberated by those very soldiers walked on stage and made a speech that brought the audience to tears.
When the March of the Living group came to Israel for the last leg of the trip, Fisher performed at the Western Wall in Jerusalem and in Latrun on Israel’s Independence Day.
To Fisher, who was born in Petah Tikva and makes his home there to this day, Jerusalem is a place of awe.
“For me, it is still a city that exists in the holy texts,” says Fisher, who wears a knitted kippa. “I love to visit whenever I can. We go for a holiday of three or four days and hire a guide to show us some of the special places,” says Fisher, who is married and has three children and three grandchildren.
As the Israeli capital holds such a special place in his heart, the performer created a vehicle in which to sing its praises. Developed three years ago, Jerusalem is a one-man show where Fisher, accompanied by a seven-piece band, sings, tells stories and displays videos about the Holy City.
No stranger to the stage, Fisher has been performing since he was in his 20s. A prolific and poly-genre singer, his spectrum ranges from cantorial, hassidic and operatic music to country, pop, rock and reggae. The lyric tenor, who speaks three languages and sings in 10, has released more than 45 albums.
He is particularly well known for his children’s DVDs, which teach kids about Jewish customs and traditions.
“Unfortunately, in Israel we are raising kids who don’t know anything about the holidays or anything,” says Fisher. “So when a nonobservant person tells me that his children love my DVDs, that makes me feel great. I’m not asking them to be religious, but at least they will know about the Four Species, Shabbat, Passover, mezuzot.”
Fisher starred as Jean Valjean in the musical Les Miserables in 1993-4, making a name for himself as the first Israeli to perform in a non- Jewish themed play on Broadway and London’s West End. He was also the first and only stage actor to be permitted to not perform on Friday nights and Saturdays due to his religious beliefs. In fact, he created a one-man show off Broadway called Never on Friday in which he recounts his experiences as a religious Jew on the Great White Way.
When Fisher created his show Jerusalem, it was originally intended for a Jewish audience, but he and his musical director, Shai Bachar, have also adapted it for the growing Evangelical Christian population that Fisher has been working with.
When he traveled to such places as Stockholm, Singapore and Sao Paolo to give concerts, Fisher says he was amazed to see Christians – children and adults alike – waving Israeli flags, dancing the hora and singing songs like “Mashiach” and “Anu Banu Artza.”
In the US, Fisher began to get closer to the Evangelical population through Pastor John Hagee, who founded the national organization Christians United for Israel (CUFI).
“In the United States, there are about 60 to 80 million Evangelicals, and the number is growing all over the world,” says Fisher. “People in Israel don’t understand how much support we receive from them.”
Not only do they support Israel financially by donating money for children, soldiers and the needy, but they also lobby for Israel on the political front, he explains.
“You can’t buy that kind of support for money,” says Fisher.
And, contrary to what his rabbinic detractors believe, Fisher asserts that the Evangelical Christians do not have a hidden agenda of wanting to convert Jews to Christianity. Rather, they stand by the tenet, derived directly from Genesis, “Whoever blesses Israel will be blessed; whoever curses Israel will be cursed.”
In November of 2010, Fisher was invited to Montrose, Colorado, to perform half of his Jerusalem show as part of an evening dedicated to honoring Israel. It was held at an Evangelical ministry established by Victoria Hearst (granddaughter of media mogul William Randolph Hearst and sister of Patty Hearst).
After the show, Hearst introduced Fisher to the woman who was her mentor, Pastor Billye Brim.
“You should come see Branson,” Brim told Fisher.
“Who’s Branson?” he said.
“Not who – what,” she replied.
“Google ‘Branson.com,’ then call me.”
Duly intrigued, he looked it up and was amazed at what he learned about the place.
“I saw something I never saw before,” Fisher recounts.
Established in the early 1900s, Branson, Missouri, is a city that has a population of 11,000 and an influx of 8 million tourists a year.
An entertainment hub of the Midwest, it has some 50 theaters (ranging in capacity from 200 to 6,000) and more theater seats than Broadway. The Las Vegas of the Bible Belt – without the crime and the casinos – the venue has been headlining major entertainers for decades.
More than duly impressed, Fisher went to Branson to check it out, and Brim sent two guides to show him around. One night he went to see a show at the Hughes Brothers Theater, home of the world’s largest performing family.
“I wanted to see the musicians, the lighting, the acoustics,” he says. “All the theaters there are family owned,” says Fisher, so the young woman who sold him a ticket at the entrance also danced in the show and manned the snack bar during intermission. And, as everyone in Branson is also very friendly, Fisher says, she asked him his name and where he was from.
Much to Fisher’s surprise, in the middle of the song and dance show, one of the Hughes Brothers said to the audience, “We have a special guest here tonight from Israel – Dudu Fisher.”
Then the man took a double take at the note in his hand and said, “Really? Dudu? What kind of name is that?” he asked, even more shocked by the scatological sounding moniker than Fisher was by the unexpected introduction.
Dubious name aside, Fisher received a standing ovation from the crowd because he was an Israeli.
When he was asked what he did in Israel, he said he was a singer. Then he added, “Maybe I’ll bring a show about Jerusalem here.”
True to his word, on September 20, 2011, Fisher performed one trial show of Jerusalem in Branson. He did a lot of promotional prep work beforehand, giving interviews to the media and handing out tickets to people who dealt with the public, such as hotel concierges and taxi drivers. His efforts more than paid off, as 1,100 people attended the performance.
“It was a big thing for me,” Fisher recounts. “I never had an experience like that in my life,” says the entertainer, referring to the avid enthusiasm of the crowd and their eagerness to see, to hear and to learn about Israel.
“I would teach them a song, and they would sing it,” he says. “And I would teach them things they never knew, such as the fact that the word ‘hallelujah,’ a term they use all the time, is actually a combination of two Hebrew words.”
Not only that, but the show is so rousing, with its mix of Hebrew songs, reggae, soulful ballads and rollicking rock tunes, that audience members get up and dance in the aisles, says Fisher.
The next day, the show was the talk of the town. Thus inspired, Fisher booked the 750-seat Caravelle Theater for his recent run of May 1- 20, as well as October 1-21. To date, he is the first Israeli singer to perform in Branson.
Most of his performances are weekday matinees, he explains, as many of the tourists go to Branson on package tours, which include prepaid tickets to evening performances. He hopes that when they find out that Jerusalem is on the roster, they will take time in the afternoon to go and see it.
“My gut tells me this is a wonderful opportunity,” says Fisher. “And I think it will be a great thing for the country, for Israel. I hope it will encourage more people to come and visit.”