Keating! The Musical We Had to Have is a comedic and musical dramatisation of the rise and fall of Paul Keating, Prime Minister of Australia from 1991–1996. It is a key work of Australian music theatre that, despite being critically acclaimed and commercially successful, has not yet been the subject of significant scholarly attention. This paper addresses the aesthetic of this Australian work, drawing upon historical, musicological and theatrical discourses to argue that Keating! is in dialogue with traditions of vaudeville performance, and that through this engagement, a mythic narrative of Australian history and identity is created.
With its roots in North America, vaudeville in colonial Australia was popular in the second half of the nineteenth century and remained so until the advent of cinema in the 1930s. Importantly, vaudeville was a space in which national, cultural and social narratives were defined and refined. It is this facet of the genre—as well as other structural and ideological principles—that are exploited in Keating!. Creator/composer Casey Bennetto and director Neil Armfield draw on tropes of vaudeville performance (rather than the more traditional model of the American musical) to engage in a process of nostalgic myth-making.
This paper also contextualises Keating! in the broader Australian music theatre landscape, and in doing so, contributes to existing material surrounding the music theatre genre.