04 June 2008

Choosing between gods

I had to make a choice last night. Was it jazz at the Gods with Bob Bertles? Truly that was something I rued missing. But the other god was better known, I’d booked months back, and I couldn’t stand my wife up, so “Keating! the musical” it was. I missed a visit to Sydney’s El Rocco of the 50s, but I caught a fabulously entertaining musical ride through 90s current affairs. You’d have to have been there (the 90s, that is) to really enjoy it. But for those with an eye for politics (I have), and doubly so for those with despair during the Howard years (me again), it was a night of frequent and satisfying belly laughs.

The show started with a five piece band on stage, playing the Beatles’ tune, Glass onion. Glass onion has the quote “the walrus was Paul”, so we’re on track from the start. The band was relaxed and obviously enjoying themselves, so looking good. Bob Hawke started the show, and various snippets of the history of the Keating years followed: the promised handover, the rolling of Hawke, the defeat of Hewson in ’93, the Gareth and Cheryl romance, right up to Keating’s defeat by Howard in ’96, although strangely this was portrayed with historical revisionism as a loss for Howard. There were memorable quotes that popped into the capable, theatrical singing. The “banana republic” had its own song, but I missed “the recession we had to have”. But “do you slowly”, “things that batter”, “light on the hill”, “it’s time” and many others made appearances. The whole show was a series of songs in various popular styles: mambo for Mabo; disco for an outrageous Rocky Horror Downer scene; a fabulous rap battle between Hewson and a verbally triumphant Keating. The music was varied, and the band performed it with comfort and occasional changes of instruments: guitar/alto sax; electric/double bass; piano/accordion; and even some acting and singing roles. Keyboardist Gareth making out with guitarist-with-blonde-wig Cheryl was amusing (“My heart’s in peril, Cheryl … Heavens, Mr Evans”). There were even a few (very few) slightly poignant moments. The final Keating ode to a bright and brilliant future lost to a Howardian past of relaxed suburban comfort was the closest to tragedy for the night. But I couldn’t bring myself to laugh at the truly withering scene of Howard as a small, embittered man with militaristic tendencies, accompanied by a warriors’ march.

Megan wondered if there could be a similar creation for Howard. We decided it was unlikely. Keating was so colourful, leaving aside a large potential audience of sympathetic arts-loving theatre-goers. I couldn’t imagine the battlers at “Howard! the glory years” sometime in the future (perhaps a sitcom on commercial TV?). But maybe it’s just too recent, and the wounds are too raw. A few years of Rudd may have us thinking differently.

I loved the music, the humour, the lighting. Great show. See it if you can, at least if you’re old enough to remember the period. It’s a hit for good reason. In the meantime, check out the summary of the show on Wikipedia.
  • Keating! the musical on Wikipedia
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