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Tevye as Punk? Funny to Its Yidcore!

December 8, 2005 By:
M.J. Fine, JE Feature
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This "Fiddlin" isn't so traditional.
Seeing Harvey Fierstein in "Fiddler on the Roof" last winter made me think about how the world has gotten better since Shalom Aleichem's day. And how it's gotten worse. And about how inevitable it was that, once in America, Tevye's youngest daughter would vex her poor, traditional father by marrying a woman.

One thing I didn't think about was how "Fiddler" would play as an Australian punk-rock musical. Luckily, Melbourne's Yidcore has saved me the trouble.

Presented as half of a two-disc set, "Fiddlin on Ya Roof" makes Jerry Bock's melodies a little crunchier and takes a few liberties with Sheldon Harnock's lyrics - most notably in "Matchmaker, Matchmaker (An Ode to Natalie Portman)" - but even the staunchest Zero Mostel purist would have to feel the affection and even reverence in Yidcore's version. There are digs, to be sure, but they're not at the show's expense.

And with 14 songs squeezed into less than 35 minutes, it fits almost any attention span. (The 17-second intermission serves as one of several skits about the stereotypical "Fiddler" audience, but the stereotype goes through a few different accents in the move from Broadway to Melbourne.)

Lead singer Bram does triple duty as Tevye, Motel and Hodel, and if some critics derided Harvey Fierstein's vocal range, well, he wasn't playing several characters in an audio-only format. Guitarist Myki makes an ugly, screechy Golde, and that's kind of the point.

In punk rock, as in the shtetl, you make do with what you've got.

Real women take a few turns on "Fiddlin." Killing Heidi singer Ella Hooper (as Grandma Tzeitel) and Australian soap-opera star Madeleine West (as Frumma Sarah) go ballistic on "Tevye's Dream," making Bram's Queen-quoting Tevye sound non-neurotic for a moment. On "Tradition" and "Sabbath Prayer," Angie Hart of mid-'90s two-hit wonder Frente! shares billing as Tevye's daughters with Bram - it's not clear which one she plays - and her subdued singing is the only subtle thing in the entire production.

But whether the top-billed woman is Angie Hart, Andrea Martin or Bea Arthur, no one's paying to see the ladies. "Fiddler" is a man's show, and "Fiddlin" is a boys' club. That suits the tavern set piece "To Life!" just fine.

In a show packed with hits, "To Life!" is a surefire highlight, and Yidcore's version is no exception. Dictators frontman Handsome Dick Manitoba (as Lazar Wolf) and token Philadelphian Atom (as Fyedke) join Bram for a poppy toast. Atom also turns up on "The Rumour," which ambles along several musical roads (old-school punk, wistful pop, scratch and ska) without getting lost.

But the "a-ha" moment comes when Bram trades Tevye's hat for Hodel's kerchief on "Far From the Home I Love." Given the chance, Harvey Fierstein would nail the song. But Bram makes the most of what he's got.

"Eighth Day Slice," the other half of Yidcore's two-fer, could have been the last word in punk-rock musicals for nice Jewish boys. Instead, it's a grab bag of pop-punk tunes, with titles more entertaining than their tunes.

"I Wanna Get to Know You in the Biblical Sense" mashes Hebrew and English into an unrequited love song, while "I Wish I Was More Like Woody Allen 'Cos My Daughter's a Bit of Alright" is a snarky reminder that some loves should stay unrequited.

Yidcore roughs up some covers, too - in Hebrew and English, but not at the same time. "Lu Yehi" and "Wind Beneath My Wings" work in the same way "Fiddlin" does - they're spirited interpretations of beloved compositions. But "Especially for You," a duet with Madeleine West, is probably funnier in Australia, where it was a schlocky hit for West's soap predecessor Kylie Minogue.

"Eighth Day Slice" isn't all screamy set-ups and speedy beats. "Since I Bothered You" isn't screamy, speedy or snarky, and it's the best track on the disc.

What you won't find here: "The Hanukkah Song." Instead, there's the bitter "Why Won't Adam Sandler Let Us Do His Song?" (Meanwhile, you can find a video for the band's much funnier Sandler update, "The Punk Rock Chanukah Song," at www.yidcore.com.)

But if the songs are bitter and glib, at least they're also brief and astute. The eight-second "I Will Be So Brief I Have Already Finished" takes a shot at listeners' alleged attention-deficit disorder, and "New Rock Is Just Like Old Rock Except Kinda Newer Sort of (I Think)" laughs at the music industry, consumers and songwriters alike.

"Eighth Day Slice" may not make you think at all. But in their own way, Yidcore's carrying the torch for clever, bittersweet songs.

Tradition!

 

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