Back in my days of high school, I spent my nights watching whatever fun or strange things would be on TV. One such program was Keating! The Musical, which immediately got my attention. A rock opera about Australia's most entertaining prime minister? Sign me up!..
Keating! The Musical is a fun time. It's a novelty, by and large, but one that manages to be enjoyable beyond that. Obviously it doesn't give you a historically perfect image of reality, but it's not meant to. Its a silly comedy first and foremost, but one that does give you a good idea of the broad politics and ideals of the man, as well as specific moments, good and bad.
Running at about 90 minutes, including an intermission, Keating is a fairly breezy watch. The real life man was known as being a principled politician and a powerful speaker, with a dazzling repertoir of insults (many of which can be heard in this musical).
The story follows his early career, as treasurer under ocker PM Bob Hawke, to his rise as prime minister, where he encounters several rivals for the 'throne'. These include opposition leader John Hewson (no relation, I promise!), and the 'big bad' John Howard. The play finally comes to a head in a way that may not exactly be historically accurate, but is definitely more fun than what really happened!
There were some critics at the time who criticised the play's tone as an insult to any who voted for Howard, but to that I saw Nahhhh. Firstly I think your general Howard supporters are big enough to not take this as a personal insult, especially when it's far too chirpy to be mean. And besides, why would they get angry? They won! They got eight years of Howard, so I doubt a musical being ridiculously pro-Keating is gonna get on their tits that much.
Lyrically there's lots to unpack here. There are many jokes, and references to the real life politics, people, or controversies (namely a couple of cheeky ones at John Howard's expense), and all made to rhyme impressively. One song, I Wanna Do You Slowly, is based on the hilarious comment Keating said to his then-opponent.
The music here is very good. The tracks are greatly varied, with ska, scat, calypso, rap, a Queen inspired ballad, a Rocky Horror style tune, and duets galore! Some of the songs do stretch on a bit too long, with the longest being 8 minutes. I understand, given this is a run-on musical, but they do threaten to wear out their welcome, especially Freaky (because of repetition, and its lack of connection with anything else).
Some particular favourites are Arse End of the Earth, Ruler of the Land, Sweet, and the surprisingly poignant Light on the Hill. The final track of the musical is an amusing one too, acting as a bit of a medley as it closes out the production.
The cast and musicians are splendid. Mike McLeish and Terry Serio are great leads, and the latter plays both his parts very well.The music is performed by a talented crew who also act. This performance that was captured on film also has the real Paul Keating himself in the audience, having a fun time. He's been vocal with his praise of the musical, as have other polly's of the time.
Keating! The Musical won't be to everyone's tastes, but those who like musicals, the theatre, and Australian politics should get a kick out of it. And some of the songs here I'd recommend any day! If you can find it it's worth a watch...