Review Summary: Australia's modern political history comes to life like never before.Let's go back to 1990; it's not so far away
Where with each misty morning dawns a more exciting day…
Casey Bennetto's hugely successful musical, Keating!
, brings its audience into the world of former Australian Prime Minister, Paul Keating. Over a collection of upbeat and often hilarious tunes, the life and times of Keating's reign as leader of the country is not only documented, but immortalised. Whilst the story itself is often stretched beyond the ridiculous; and the soundtrack alone is simply nothing compared to the full-blown audio-visual that one experiences through the actual musical, this is a wonderful concept- enjoyable start to finish, with some hugely entertaining and memorable tracks.
, as a whole, is indebted to two things for its successes - the lyrics of Casey Bennetto and the versatile, interlocked musicality of the backing band, the Drowsy Drivers. Bennetto's in-depth research into the time and context of the events that are featured, as well as the people themselves, gives the type of satirical humour that is prominent throughout Keating!
the edge and the wit that it needs to be a success. Whether he is depicting Keating's strive for Australia as a republic in "Ruler of the Land" ("I am the servant of a distant queen/Who can overween and intervene/Can we finally make her obsolete?"); or satirising the Bob Hawke government on opener "My Right Hand Man" ("I'm a hit with each constituent/And unemployment's only…(cough)…percent"), Bennetto thrives. Each song proudly displays an array of clever rhymes, biting social commentary and an uncanny ability to make these events in our nation's history truly relevant in the new century.
Equally impressive is the environment in which we find the lyrics of Bennetto, and this is where the Drowsy Drivers come in. It’s truly remarkable just how many styles of music are found throughout Keating!
, but even more so is the fact that the band handle it with such ease. Take, for example, the sudden segue from the funky hip-hop styling of “On the Floor”, which illustrates the rivalry between Keating and John Hewson; to the intentionally cringeworthy porn groove of “I Wanna Do You Slowly”, referencing an actual quote from Keating in response to why he would not call an early election. This unexpected turn is not only outstanding in terms of comical timing, but also reflects the band’s skill as musicians. Elsewhere, the Drivers tackle ska (“The Arse-End of the Earth”), gospel (“Sweet”), sickly love ballads (“Heavens, Mr Evans”) and even doo-wop (the particularly hilarious scat of “Antony Green”). The band themselves are all extremely efficient performers- bassist Eden Ottignon slips in and out of swaying double bass and funky electric four-string rythms, Guy Strazz provides silky smooth acoustic guitar throughout (particularly on “Redfern”) and drummer Alon Isar literally does not miss a beat.
The band go beyond the call of duty, however, in “Heavens, Mr Evans” a duet between keyboardist Enio Pozzebon as Gareth Evans and lead guitarist Mick Stewart as Sheryl Kernot- yes, this is
as strange as it sounds, but no, it’s not as bad as it sounds.
The actors themselves also shine out front on vocals. Mike McLeish, who plays the eponymous star of the show, proves his worth with a solid, exciting delivery of his cocksure and ambitious character, and an excellent and harmonious vocal range. Terry Serio’s interpretations of former PMs Bob Hawke and John Howard- particularly in “My Right Hand Man” and arguably the funniest song here, “The Mateship” (look out for the Bee Gees reference), respectively- also edge dangerously close to the men themselves. “Power”, too, emphasises Howard’s dark side through Serio’s dynamic barks and demented whimpers: “I want power! I want power!/Not just to sit in Opposition and glower!/I want to turn this mother loose!/Show me the money! Give me the juice!”.
Even with Keating!
predominantly being such a blistering and fast-paced comedy, it comes as a shock when a serious song is thrown into the mix. It then proceeds to shock further by actually being poignant and powerful works in their own right. “I Remember Kirribilli” is situated near the beginning of the performance, as McLeish pleads his case as Keating, having been betrayed by Hawke who refuses to step aside and let Keating lead. Gripping and honest lyrics describing the loneliness of the nation’s capital, in addition to an impressive solo from Mick Stewart not only prevent the song from entering cheesy territory but make the message all the more important. “Redfern”, too, is a quaint moment in which Keating reflects on Aboriginal mistreatment, featuring arguably the best vocals from McLeish throughout and more of Bennetto’s pensive and emotionally charged lyrics:
“And wonder how we had the gall
To think that it was all OK
And never thought to say
"How angry would I be if this were done to me?"”
This ultimately bowls over into the ridiculous yet entertaining “Ma(m)bo”, yet doesn’t lose the message for a second.
“The Light on the Hill” comes near the close of Keating!
, and is the very moment where what is happening is no laughing matter. McLeish once again delivers in bucketloads, drawing his vocals back significantly to create a stunning yet unassuming sound that is not present in any of the other numbers in the musical. Over a simple chord progression, Keating concedes defeat in the election, his vision rejected by the Australian public this time around, in favour of a Prime Minister promising a country just the way it was before. “But, still, I dream”, McLeish affirms, “Of a country rich and clever/with compassion and endeavour…I’m still dreaming of the light on the hill”. Even over a decade after Keating’s final moments in parliament, this vision for Australia’s future still stands strong, and here can even be seen as a triumphant call to arms. Undoubtedly, this is the best song of the lot, one that will stick with you for quite some time, especially if you are Australian yourself.
Ultimately, the only qualm that can be had with the cast recording of Keating!
is just how much better it all is in the theatre environment. Much like the Flight of the Conchords’ recent album, the songs are excellent yet simply cannot compare to having the instrumentation right in front of you, the energy levels through the roof and an audience to react to it. Having said that, it is quite a feat on behalf of the cast that the songs hold up so well on their own.
was given the tagline “the musical we had to have”, and once you have experienced it, both in performance and on CD, you shall most likely be inclined to agree.