Keating! The Musical, now showing as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, is the creation of composer, performer and director Casey Bennetto. In a previous incarnation it wowed audiences at the 2005 Comedy Festival where Bennetto won The Age Critics' Award, the Golden Gibbo and The Barry Award for Most Outstanding Show. Last year's Fringe Festival culminated with a 'final' performance of Keating! in which Bennetto played each of Keating's political comrades/adversaries. At the end of the performance, to loud applause, Bennetto ceremoniously broke the eyebrowed glasses he'd worn as Howard, saying he wouldn't need them any more!
But this was not to be the end, Keating! would not lie down. Under the umbrella of Sydney's Company B and the direction of Neil Armfield the performance took on another life. Expanded and reworked with input from the likes of the irrepressible John Clark it toured successfully through 2006 and is making a triumphant return to Melbourne. It is especially pleasing to note that, despite the more professional staging, lighting, costuming and sound, the show has lost none of its satiric edge. It is still as irreverent and raunchy as before, despite being performed within the elegant surrounds of the Comedy Theatre.
The wonderful Mike McLeish as Keating struts the stage as impressively as before, his voice equally at home with moody ballads, full on rock and classy jazz, not to mention reggae and blues. For the first time, the musical director, Bennetto, is watching from the audience as Eddie Perfect gives us his John Hewson and Alexander Downer, and Terry Serio re-creates Bob Hawke and John Howard. The musicians are an integral part of the whole adding not only their obvious musical skills, hamming it up beautifully when appropriate, but also their comic abilities. Keyboardist Enio Pozzebon is a wonderful Gareth Evans (my heart's in peril Cheryl) and Eden Ottignon (electric and acoustic bass) makes a fetching Cheryl Kernou (heavens Mr Evans). To top it all off, or should I say at the bottom of it all, the writing is witty and observant, cleverly capturing key elements that are the Paul Keating we remember - clocks, bananas, piggeries and armani suits.
Whilst it is no doubt an added delight to remember the actual events being commented on this doesn't mean that the performance lacks relevance or interest for those who maybe weren't around at the time. One young usher commented that she didn't know who the characters were and that at the beginning she thought the audience would be bored. She was surprised when, to quote her, things just got better and better. By the end she was cheering along with the rest of the audience.
Keating! has something for everyone. There is scathing political satire in the lyrics and the characterisation. There is wonderful music which runs the full gamut of musical genres from rock and reggae to jazz and blues, with a taste of everything in between. There are impressive performances from musicians and vocalists. There are great lighting effects (designed by Damien Cooper) and sound (Steve Francis). And there is a wonderful story, full of passion and hope, disappointment and loss, love and rejection, and more than a touch of melodrama. Most importantly of all, under the inspired direction of Neil Armfield, each of these elements is beautifully integrated so as to create a satisfying whole that had the audience cheering the heroes, booing the villains, and rising to their feet with a standing ovation at the end.
Keating! is an absolute delight, a totally satisfying theatrical experience, one of a kind and not to be missed.
Company B presents
by Casey Bennetto
Venue: Comedy Theatre, Exhibition Street, Melbourne
Previews: Wednesday April 11 All preview tickets $45.00
Dates: 11 April - 20 May, 2007
Times: Tuesday to Saturday 8.00pm. Matinees: Wednesday 1.00pm, Saturday 2.00 pm & Sunday 5.00pm.
Tickets: Full $55.00 (Saturday $59.00), Concession $50.00, Matinees $44.00 - $55.00, Groups 10+ $39.00 -$45.00
Student Rush: $35.00 Tuesdays 8.00pm. Available one hour prior to performance from Comedy Theatre box office. Subject to availability. Full time Australian student proof of identity required.
Bookings: Ticketek 132 849 www.ticketek.com.au