Just two years ago, renowned Israeli singer Dudu Fisher had never heard of Branson, Missouri, but today he can’t get enough of the Bible Belt vacation town.
Fisher was trying to figure out how he might attract Christians to come see his musical stage show “Jerusalem,” when a friend suggested he check out Branson. Previously, Fisher had focused his efforts on Jewish audiences, traveling from city to city around the world to share his personal connection with the holy city.
Fisher describes the Midwestern vacation mecca, where he decided he’d perform his show, as the “Las Vegas of Evangelical Christians” (though its mayor tells TheBlaze that people of all faiths visit). Like Las Vegas, Branson offers a wide array of stage shows but without the gambling or lascivious lures. Until Fisher came to town, no Israeli had ever performed there, he says.
“I went to Branson and I went crazy. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw what was going on there,” Fisher told TheBlaze in an interview from his home in Israel.
“I went to see a show one evening. In the middle of the show, the guy stops the show and says ‘we have a very special guest from Israel, Dudu Fisher.’ Everyone stood up and gave me a standing ovation,” he recounted.
Fisher is a religious Jew for whom Christians have played a key role, starting with making sure he was born. Fisher’s father was saved from the Nazis and Polish vigilantes by a Christian family in Poland during World War II. The couple, Alfred and Maria Kwarchak, hid 17 members of Fisher’s family in a bunker for 18 months and were later recognized by Israel’s Holocaust memorial museum Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.
“Many times my life has had a lot of crossroads with Christian people. I got my life from Christian people. Then, [theater producer] Cameron Mackintosh let me play [leading role Jean Valjean] in Les Miserables. Then this thing with Branson came up. So I said something interesting is going on here,” Fisher says.
“Today, I have so many Christian friends who love Israel and the Jewish people and help us politically and financially and support so many causes here in Israel. We have to make this love grow,” he adds.
The famed tenor has sung worldwide, and has performed for world leaders including Pope Benedict XVI and for President Barack Obama when he visited Israel this past spring.
In 2011, Fisher performed in Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Courage” production in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Fisher describes his motivation in sharing with audiences his connection with Jerusalem. “I understood that Jerusalem is like Coca Cola. Everybody knows about Jerusalem from the news, but unfortunately in a bad connotation - because someone is throwing stones or a Muslim demonstration or somebody takes a truck and kills people,” Fisher says.
“They never see Jerusalem that we know, that we here in Israel and visitors know. The people when they see Jerusalem on the news they don’t see Jerusalem of life, Jerusalem of gold, Jerusalem of peace, the holy Jerusalem,” he says.
“So I decided to do a show and tell a real story about Jerusalem and about the Temple, the walls, the people who live there. I show videos and tell stories and sing about Jerusalem and I combine it with my personal life story,” Fisher adds.
Fisher rented the Caravelle Theatre in Branson and performed there during two months last year. This year, he’s scheduled to perform from October 15 to November 23.
A Jerusalem Post reporter described Fisher’s enthusiasm about his new venue when he performed his first test show 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.”
The 61-year-old says, “For me it’s like being 19 again and trying to build a new career. I’m really excited about it. I invested a lot of money there and didn’t see money back yet, but I believe in two years it will be a huge thing.”
Branson Mayor Raeanne Presley came out to see the new visitor’s show. In a telephone interview from Branson with TheBlaze, Presley says the town with 10,500 residents entertains more than seven million visitors a year. She describes the attractions that lure visitors: a “welcoming attitude,” the beautiful Ozark Mountains and lakes, along with shopping, dining and live entertainment.
“What sets us apart a little bit is we are very family oriented. We’re located in a part of the country that’s pretty conservative so we have an opportunity to speak about our faith and thank God for all the blessings we have and thank our veterans for their service,” Presley says.
“We welcome folks from all faiths, and we find that our town wants to be in a position where multi-generations can come and visit without feeling there’s offensive language or entertainment that is rated R,” she says.
“Our tourism and who we are as a community is what some folks might think harkens back a few decades, but we think it’s absolutely in line with our beliefs,” Presley says.
Presley says the town’s theaters serve popcorn and Coke, while performers come out to sign autographs and talk with their audience after the show. Sometimes they even walk guests back to their tour buses to continue the conversation.
When he travels back to Branson this fall, Fisher will continue to balance his work and his faith. As an Orthodox Jew, he doesn’t work on the Sabbath, which means no Friday night productions. Because there are no synagogues or kosher food nearby, he cooks and worships alone. He says he is grateful for those who during the course of his illustrious career have respected his faith, including Broadway Les Mis producer Mackintosh who let him take off on Friday night and Saturday matinee shows, as well as Mike Huckabee who earlier this month pushed back the time of his Fox News show taping to accommodate his guest Fisher’s religious observance.
Fisher says his next goal is to produce a DVD of his show “Jerusalem.” While he at first turned to Kickstarter to try to crowdsource fund the half-a-million dollar production, he ended up raising the money privately with the help of private donors and plans to film in Israel’s capital later this year. His last taped show, "Dudu Fisher Live from Israel," was broadcast on PBS stations nationwide.
And for those going to see his show in person, Fisher and his sponsors are giving away a free trip to Jerusalem to one lucky couple at the end of each season that the show runs.
Watch video of the tenor singing the song “This Land is Mine” from the movie Exodus whose lyrics were written by Pat Boone: