Long before Susan Boyle ever dreamed of dreaming a dream, Dudu Fisher was doing it.
Israel's got talent: And Fisher, an extraordinary voice on that nation's musical landscape, landed the job that awakened American audiences to his protean talents.
In 1993, the sabra solidified his stellar status as he assumed the starring role of Jean Valjean on Broadway in "Les Misérables." He has had a sweet 16 years of success ever since.
And in concert with the current release of the DVD/ CD of his recent performance in Israel — aired on PBS, with Fisher making a WHYY-TV stop during pledge drive earlier this year — Dudu does it again: He will perform his concert, an extended version of the TV special, on Oct. 22, at 7:30 p.m., at the Merriam Theater in Center City.
It's more of a merry homecoming than anything else, since Fisher has played the area — Atlantic City, N.J. — in the past. Bring it home? Bring it on!
"There is something about becoming an overnight success later in life," says the now 48-year-old singer/actor/chief chazzan of New York Synagogue, who dreamt his first dream of performing when making his exodus from the Israeli army after service to the nation.
Invited to perform at a synagogue, he made the bimah his own, subsequently turning to cantorial service at the Great Synagogue in Tel Aviv and, with a greater opportunity, next in South Africa.
Reform to the Regulations
But it was being invited to see "Les Misérables" while working in London that he became master of the house — and brought the house down when he pursued his goal of diving into the Jean Valjean pool — and doing it swimmingly.
His first theatrical role was the starring one in the Israeli production and when producer Cameron Macintosh saw him on stage there one night, he said, basically, come on over to my house.
That house was Broadway — and thousands of miles away for family-man Fisher and even farther afield from the rituals he cherished as a Shomer Shabbat Jew.
Nothing came between him and his Jean Valjean … except his Orthodoxy. Ironically, Fisher's stance was to bring reform to Broadway's bastion of rules and regulations.
The singer suddenly became a noted exception: "When I explained to Cameron," who is not Jewish, "the importance of Shabbat, how for 24 hours you rest not just from work but from" the rigors of the world, "he understood."
And Broadway was to have its first star to share Shabbat at home rather than on stage.
If Macintosh became the apple of Fisher's eye, there were others whose core he couldn't capture. Not everyone was as observant of his religious restrictions.
Long enamored of the lead role in "The Phantom of the Opera," Fisher appealed to composer Andrew Lloyd Weber for the role minus the Shabbat performances.
He didn't score.
Music of the night? You could have heard a chandelier crash: "He turned the idea down," says Fisher.
On such considerations do careers turn — and take off. Dudu's done deal: In the intervening years, Fisher has toured internationally with shows, such as his new "Jerusalem" — 16 songs about the city of golden light — and has developed a new musical clattering with klezmer.
Those wails of the old world will mix with the new when Fisher performs at the Merriam.
"This music chases me," says Fisher of the hypnotic hunt of heritage.
"What this music does for people is make them happy," he says. "It makes me happy."
If that's the case, he must be ecstatic with the public's reaction to his DVD and CD. But then, he's a mountaineer of a music man — Fisher's fine work climbs the charts, scaling heights and hopes with the aplomb of an engaging artist with a voice of both velvet and volume.
These days, he must feel particularly blessed, having performed by special invitation before Pope Benedict XVI when the pontiff visited Israel recently. Fisher's voice carries octaves, but could it carry a message about the venal to the Vatican?
"Some people say he is a cold man," says the singer of the papal personality. "But to meet somebody of such influence … I sang 'Bring Him Home,' " hoping his voice was a veritable push for possibilities on the future of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held by Hamas since 2006.
Fisher tried to hold the pope's attention and his eyes.
"I know in my heart that he felt what I was singing," says Fisher of the "Les Misérables" lyrical plea for a soldier's return from the frontlines.
"I saw his eyes. I knew he knew what I was talking about," says the man commonly referred to as "Israel's cantor."
Talking point as singing point. But what's the point?
"I'm no fool, thinking that he could have influence on Hamas. But it was very important to me," adds Fisher.
Eye on the Ball
Also important are the accolades accompanying Fisher's career, especially for the stand that he took about his belief in Shabbat.
The Sandy Koufax of musical theater?
"Yes," he says of the comparison to the great pitcher and what the two men share in taking the high road on High Holidays.
And then there's Fisher's acclaim as a modern-day "Jazz Singer" — "Only I never left Judaism," he says in reference to the story of a cantor who abandons his family legacy to pursue a career in show business, only to return to the bimah.
Oh, and there's one other exception: The movie's part about the gentile wife, laughs the happily married man in deference to his observant Jewish family.
"Never on Friday" is more than part of his belief system — it's also his one-time off-Broadway one-man show, which went over well with audiences, as did "Over the Rainbow," a musical compendium of Broadway compositions that he took on tour to Israel.
Over the rainbow?
He's overjoyed at his touring schedule — with kudos to Atlantic City-based promoter Frank Gelb — and his soon-to-be released CD of klezmer.
Dreamed a dream, indeed. Any advice for Susan Boyle as she takes to her own barricades in the business?
"Most important for her is to stay normal," offers Fisher.
"It is good when things happen later in life," observes the wunderkind from 1993 who, like Jean Valjean, values the future for what it really holds:
One day more.