Saturday, August 23, 2008

Keating!: Where were you when...?

Keating! (Australian musical)

... Paul Keating nudged out Bob Hawke to become Prime Minister?

December 20, 1991. I was in the USA, at the start of a six-week vacation. Now, in the US, news from Australia is extremely rare. On my first trip (December 83/Jan 84), the only news from home in six weeks was a Sydney Harbour ferry sinking during the annual Great Ferry Race of 1984. So when, during my 1991 trip - with more a few people I met saying, "I understand you have a new Prime Minister..." - it was only compounding my belief that Americans knew very little about Australia. Eventually, I discovered it was true: Australia suddenly had a new Prime Minister, no election needed.

Last night, I finally got to see an small, but highly acclaimed piece of Australian musical theatre: "Keating!", about the rise and rise of the suave and debonair politician, Paul Keating. Brilliantly performed by Mike McLeish (above left) - at times his Keating-esque glances and poses were uncanny - at almost all times his Keating was as unflappable as the original. With the easy poise of a lounge singer, Keating was surrounded by embarrassing blunderers: hilarious and quirky caricatures of Bob Hawke, John Howard (in several quick-change outfits - marvellous!), both played by Terry Serio (above right, as Bob), and Dr John Hewson and Alexander Downer (both scene-stealing roles played by Brendan Coustley).

This is an expanded version of the 2005 Drowsy Drivers' Melbourne International Comedy Festival pub show. Because both versions usually play in smallish venues, "Keating!"'s reputation for selling out early is well known.

One aspect of this production I really loved: the band members were such essential elements to the action on stage. Those guys weren't just playing instruments, they were doing as much acting as the main performers, and this was evident from their opening notes of the overture. There was some great rapport happening there, and I loved the switch from regulation black shirts and singlets to business suits and ties after intermission. Special kudos to Mick Stuart, who quietly slipped away from his electric guitar and saxophone to emerge from backstage as perfectly coiffed, red-dressed Cheryl Kernot, to sing "her" duet with Senator Gareth Evans (Enio Pozzebon, also from the band).

Terry Serio performed several of his numbers right in front of me (in the front row). That was a little unnerving at times, considering my last encounter with Mr Serio. However, it was Alexander Downer in his fishnets who picked out the two women sitting next to me, to make them a crucial part of his raunchy solo, "Freaky".

It was a fun night at the theatre. Many thanks to Fleur for organising the tickets. I'm sorry I let Mr Downer molest your mother and her friend! Hehehehehe. (Glad it was them and not me.)

And my friend, Maria in Brisbane, would be proud of me for going. Maria has been an avid "Keating!" fan since its early days, and has the original version's cast recording CD on an endless loop in her car. Most of my holiday road trips with Maria since 2005 have been accompanied by the sulty tones of Mike McLeish. I'm guessing her little son, Ben, knows the songs of "Keating!" better than those of The Wiggles.

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