Jewish singer-songwriter Shelley Fisher shares her autobiography in music in her one-woman show “The Hebrew Hillbilly: Fifty Shades Of Oy Vey,” in three performances Thursday, Jan. 10 to Sunday, Jan. 13 at the Jewish Cultural Arts Theater (JCAT) of the Michael-Ann Russell Jewish Community Center in North Miami Beach.
“This is the second consecutive year that I am performing the show at JCAT and have added new songs and scenes into the story of my life,” says Fisher about the show.
Fisher created "The Hebrew Hillbilly" in 2013 and it made its South Florida premiere in 2015 at Empire Stage in Fort Lauderdale.
Fisher sings and speaks of her career and life about “being a good, little southern Jewish girl from Memphis who went against the odds in having a career in music and, along the way, being influenced by Elvis Presley and others,” says Fisher in the deep Southern drawl that gives the audience no doubt that she is born and raised in Memphis.
Fisher begins the show sharing how her father Max arrived in the United States from Russia and decided to settle in Memphis rather than in New York.
“My daddy Max escaped from Russia, got on a boat, rode it all the way across the ocean to New York, and just about crashed into a huge lady named Mrs. Liberty, wearing a big old bathrobe and spiked hair. She winked at him and said ‘hey Jew boy, go down south where the really nice southern people will welcome you with a really big “Shalom Y’ All,” Fisher tells the audience in the opening of the show.
However, growing up in Memphis in the 1960s for Fisher was not about being welcomed in school with a lot of southern hospitality. Instead, the audience learns of a childhood in which young Shelley is ostracized for being Jewish. with her life taking a dark turn when she loses her father at age 12.
“I added a scene in the updated 2019 show in which I experience racism through my nanny. I watched my nanny being forced to sit in the back of a bus while she was taking me to school. I sing the song ‘I Wanna Stand With You’ to express my anger and fear.”
The story of Fisher’s life is told through dialogue and in 17 original songs penned by Fisher and Ken Hirsch. Despite the tragic beginning to the show, Fisher adapts and celebrates life in Memphis, as the audience learns of her relationship with her mother, Freda, her meeting with Elvis Presley and many other tales on the road to becoming a singer in Los Angeles.
Although one- person musical autobiographies of Jewish performers have been performed in South Florida before (Billy Crystal’s “700 Sundays” and Jake Ehrenreich’s “A Jew Grows In Brooklyn” are two examples), Fisher’s story of a Jew not being raised in a large city with many ethnicities is unique, she says.
“There were not that many Jews living in Memphis when I was a child. So, I felt like I was different, unlike Jews who were raised In New York or Chicago.”
Fisher uses Memphis as the setting in her show for all the music that followed. She was influenced by the love of music in her family. Her father played the violin and her mother (whom she impersonates in the show with a thick Yiddish accent) was a nightclub singer. “My mother was the biggest influence of my life. What a voice she had, and she sang all day until she smoked it away with her addiction to cigarettes,” says Fisher in the show.
Fisher’s unfolds her road to success as a singer in California in the show to include tales of her marriages to a cantor and a tennis player-pro in Miami (Dick Fisher). She met Fisher at the Jockey Club in North Miami, while performing there and had a singing career in Miami Beach in the 1980s with appearances in many of the hotels.
Other Florida connections are her living on the West Coast of Florida with Dick Fisher in Captiva, Fla., after their marriage in New York City. Her mother, Freda, was a part-time Miami Beach resident from 1975 to 1983.
Shelley has lived in Santa Monica, California, since 1987. She moved to Santa Monica to continue her singing career, as she reveals in her show.
There were influences in her career, including meeting Elvis in Memphis a few days prior to his famed television special in the 1970s, and in her one-woman show she goes into great detail about their meeting.
“Elvis took a strong interest in my career. He told me to focus on being who I am and not to ever forget to go for my dream of being a singer.”
Fisher goes on to share her many anecdotes of success, which include a record contract, hosting a televised cooking show in California and becoming a mother.
“I am blessed and today I am living my dream and enjoying my life.”
Her original blues, country and rock and roll songs, such as “Rocking To Memphis”, and “We Remember” move the story along.
Her southern charm, with a strong physical and vocal resemblance to Dolly Parton, make Fisher and her show endearing.
“I wrote the title song ‘Hebrew Hillbilly’ because it sets up my identity. My first grade teacher called me ‘the Hebrew hillbilly’ and from that moment on, I knew I was different,” said Fisher.
As revealed in the show, Fisher lit the Shabbat candles each Friday night with her mother and went to an Orthodox synagogue in Memphis.
When Fisher moved to Los Angeles to pursue her dream of becoming a star, she had the opportunity of visiting Israel a few times, the most recent in 2014.
“I am a down home girl from Memphis, but I feel that my second home is in Israel. I have such wonderful memories of going there,” said Fisher.
Fisher’s song, “I’m Still Hot” closes the show on an upbeat note.
“The Hebrew Hillbilly: Fifty Shades Of Oy Vey” will be performed on Thursday, Jan. 10 at 7:30 p.m., Friday, January 12 at 8 p.m., and Saturday, Jan. 13 at 2 p.m. Tickets range from $10 for seniors and students to $34. For show times and tickets at JCAT, 18900 NE 25 Avenue in North Miami Beach, call 1-866-811-4111 or go to www.jcctheatre.com To learn more about Shelley Fisher, go to www.hebrewhillbilly.com