In the middle of the interview, Casey Bennetto suddenly goes quiet and can be heard thinking.
He has been talking about his show, Keating! The Musical, and upon learning that Paul Keating as Prime Minister always gave an endorsement to Mardi Gras, something thatJohn Howard has never done in 10 years, Bennetto becomes silent.
After a few moments the musical’s creator then picks up the thread of his conversation. I am not too sure where that will fit in, but that is really too good not to use, he exclaims.
We are still working on it and have some time until previews, so things are still being added in. But that fact about Mardi Gras is something we really need to use.
When Keating! played in Sydney in August last year, the entire season sold out before opening night. Since then it has played across the country, being constantly reworked along the way, with the addition of six new songs.
Keating! tells the story of Paul Keating’s Canberra from 1990 to 1996, in the period when his ambition drove him from the world’s greatest treasurer to one of the most socially progressive leaders Australia has ever seen.
I always thought there was something of the showman about Keating, Bennetto says. When he threw a barb out, it was as much about how clever he was saying it as it was about whoever was his latest target.
When we came up with the idea about doing a show about him, we thought about all the highs and lows and drama for the main character to fight back against. His story could make a serious opera as there is so much drama there, but this is not serious -“ it’s just very silly.
The story follows Keating’s wrestle for power, his focus on Reconciliation, closer ties with Asia and the push for a republic. Among the supporting characters in the tale are Bob Hawke, John Hewson, Alexander Downer, Gareth Evans, Cheryl Kernot and John Howard.
Mike McLeish stars in the title role, with Terry Serio playing both Hawke and Howard, while Bennetto takes on the role of Downer.
Yes, I do cross-dress, he says, referring to the infamous news picture of Downer in fishnet stockings. It is a bit like Frank-N-Furtner meets a repressed English public school boy. I have the heels and the fishnets, and I am about to have a fitting for the new corset, he laughs.
Bennetto admits he had a clear political agenda in creating the musical. So disillusioned by the current state of both sides of federal parliament, he says Keating! is a look back to a time when the leaders of the nation were more vivid.
What people like about that time was there was a colour and movement with these people -“ we have been in a very pallid 10 years, Bennetto says.
I am a left-leaning person and the last five years have been pretty dire in terms of socially progressive policies of any ilk. This show was about celebrating those platforms, rather than just denigrating the current prime minister, although it does do that.
But we do so in such an overblown musical theatre style that it almost subverts itself in the end. This show is so musical theatre in that it is so in favour of Paul Keating and gets carried away with the virtues and the glory of the man.
Bennetto then adds after a moment, A bit like the real man, I guess.
Keating! The Musical plays from 16 November at the Belvoir Street Theatre, Surry Hills. Bookings on 9699 3444 or at the Belvoir Street Theatre website.