With the Merriam Theater the site for the recent opening concert of a multi-city American and Canadian tour by Dudu Fisher — the Israeli-born cantor, singer, actor — one anticipated a special event from an entertainer whose life sounds like a remake of "The Jazz Singer."
His 100-minute performance without intermission was presented with much enthusiasm, radiating great love of the Jewish people, traditional Jewish lifestyle and the State of Israel. Musically, I felt some disappointment.
As for his life story and career embodying the real-life elements of the immortal "The Jazz Singer" story: A son of a Holocaust survivor, Fisher was born into an Orthodox home in Petach Tikvah. He trained in Israel to be a traditional cantor, achieving great success quickly.
While officiating as High Holiday chazzan at Kutsher's Hotel in the Catskills during the mid-1980s, he was summoned back to Israel to sing for Cameron Mackintosh, the internationally famous producer, and the local producers of the Israeli "Les Miserables."
Based on his beautiful voice, his very large two octave range and his interpretative dramatic skills honed by many years of cantorial davening, he was awarded the lead role of Jean Valjean, and his career was changed forever. He played the role in both the London and American Broadway productions, always insisting that he not appear on stage on Shabbat evenings, afternoons or on Jewish holidays.
Accompanied by an excellent seven piece band led by music director/pianist Shai Bachar, Fisher entered the Merriam from the back, walking down the right aisle, and shaking hands with audience members, as he sang "Freilach One" from the "Kammen International Dance Collection." Right away, I noticed that his voice was "road-weary."
After Fisher got up on stage to stand among his band, his voice command returned to good form.
His choice of music, however, left something to be desired. Fisher presented an autobiographical concert, illustrating the highlights of his career by performing a smorgasbord of songs for which he has become known, including "In My Own Lifetime" from "The Rothschilds" by Bock and Harnick; excerpts from the traditional Kol Nidrei, interspersed with audio clips from "Les Miz"; and complete performances of "Bring Him Home" and "Master of the House."
During the Kol Nidrei sound bytes, his high baritone voice assumed great dignity and good vertical placement, and left me eager to hear more music sung in this coloration and position. Unfortunately, he then sang "If I Were a Rich Man," reworked into a Latin beat — and renamed "If I were a Spanish Millionaire" — sung in the style of the sultry Charo.
His interpretation of a Ladino folk tune, sung in a duet with virtuoso soprano sax and reed player, Orthodox Rabbi Greg Wall, was a genuine musical and vocal highlight.
Two more adaptations touched most audience members: a Yiddish translation of "Poppa, Can You Hear Me?" from Barbra Streisand's film "Yentl," dedicated to his father; and "Come to Jerusalem," based on Neil Diamond's "America," written for the 1980 version of "The Jazz Singer."
Fisher sang the popular Uzi Hitman setting of "Adon Olam" and finished up with a Mama-based Yiddish medley.
Next time, I hope that Fisher uses his wonderful vocal talent and interpretive skills to sing more challenging and more important repertoire.