IT was the era of "the evil empire", as Ronald Reagan dubbed the Soviet Union.
Jews were prisoners in their own country, Leon Uris' Exodus was secretively distributed and incarceration on trumped-up charges was commonplace.
Yet a remarkable event took place in Moscow 's Tchaikovsky Hall in the winter of 1989 -- with former Australian Jewish leader Isi Leibler the driving force -- the first full-scale legitimate concert of Jewish music in 70 years.
With members of the feared KGB in the front, 2000 Jews filled the auditorium, some having travelled for four days by train from Siberia -- and some, such as Yuli Kosharovsky, refuseniks for 16 years, which meant he had been fired from his job and harassed ever since applying to emigrate to Israel 16 years earlier.
Dudu Fisher takes the stage. "I'm sure these walls have never heard chazonis [Jewish music] before," he says, sending shivers up the spines of his audience.
He sings Bring Them Home -- the heartfelt prayer from Les Miserables-- its profound relevance poignantly apparent to the rapt listeners.
Fifteen years later, Fisher, now 50, holds the experience as the ultimate of his career.
"It was a mission," he recalls. "Talking to [Israeli singer] Yaffa Yarkoni backstage, we felt we were doing something that would change Jewish history, that would change the life of Jews behind the Iron Curtain.
"People still stop me in Tel Aviv and say `you're the one who influenced me to come to Israel ' or `I was there that night'.
"From the moment we stepped off the plane I had the feeling that show would be different. I sang for Clinton , I sang for the Queen; never have I had the feeling I had that night."
WHILE it was Moscow where Fisher made history, it was Les Miserables which propelled him to international billing.
Seeing the show in London in 1986, he knew he had to secure the role of Jean Valjean.
When it was announced that the show was to be staged in Israel , Fisher -- an Orthodox cantor -- auditioned.
He landed the role, Les Miserables became the longest-running show in Israel and he was invited to sing at the World Cup final at Wembley and at a Royal Command Performance for the Queen, featuring 20 Valjeans from around the world.
Having dinner with Cameron Mackintosh after the opening night in Israel , the acclaimed producer -- who had heard Fisher in Hebrew only -- told him the Israeli production was the best he had seen and he wanted Fisher on Broadway.
"I took it as a joke," Fisher recounted; "then I realised he meant it. I said I'd like to, but I don't work on Shabbes. He asked why not. I explained. He understood my situation and honoured it; a lot of Jewish producers don't."
Not only did Mackintosh take Fisher to Broadway, but he paid another performer to fill in on Shabbat. "I don't have bad feelings towards other producers," says Fisher; "it's all about dollars. But he was the only one to
let me take Shabbes off."
Has his identity impacted on his career?
"I hate the word `if', he replies. "If I'd taken off my yarmulke, if I worked on Shabbes ... I didn't get to do Phantom of the Opera in London because I'm Shomer Shabbes.
I'm frustrated, but this is the way God wants me to live my life. It's what I do."
Born in Petach Tikvah -- where he still lives -- Fisher's cantorial heritage stems from his grandfather. At yeshiva he was part of a group which toured the country, after which he served in the army as a singer and studied at Tel Aviv University 's Academy of Music .
He has recorded 20 albums, was Moses in Spielberg's The Prince of Egypt and sang with the Israel Philharmonic and London Symphony orchestras and for Thailand 's royal family.
His wife and three (adult) children are in Israel , which makes the fact that he spends half of the year abroad difficult.
He is currently recording a CD for a one-man show which he will takes to the US in October.
To be produced by Bruce Gelb -- Andrea Bocelli's promoter -- it is titled Coming to America, Fisher performing a selection from Fiddler on the Roof, Yentl and The Jazz Singer.
"Bruce is Shomer Shabbes," he said. "I get many calls from Las Vegas, where the money is big, but I can't do it. It's beautiful to work with a producer who doesn't book me on Tisha b'Av."
Describing Les Miserables as "the greatest musical of the century", he cites Bring Them Home and Empty Chairs and Empty Tables as his favourite numbers.
"It's the Israeli condition -- wars, wounded, killed. "Being in a big show is hard. Not only are you a slave for three hours, but your life is built around those three hours -- no friends, nothing, you disconnect from the world.
"A one-man show gives you time. I pity Broadway actors because they work so hard and the payment isn't great. You have to love it -- and I love what I do."
Fisher -- who has sung at the Sydney Opera House, Melbourne Concert Hall, Madison Square Garden , Budapest Opera House and Bolshoi Theatre -- will appear in Melbourne on August 23 and in Sydney
on August 25.