Who are you?

Last year Paul Keating was counting stock in Tesco's. Now he's starring in a West End musical. Nicholas Barber reports

IT SEEMS a typically unadventurous West End production. First, it's a musical. Second, it's not even a new musical: Tommy comes to London laden with awards won by its Broadway production. Third, even in New York it wasn't entirely new. Its full title there was The Who's Tommy, just to remind people that they could whistle the tunes on the way into the theatre. And fourth, it features a pop star with a shaky career, just as the revived Joseph had Jason Donovan, and the revived Grease, Debbie Gibson and Craig McLachlan. Tommy's pop kind-of star is Kim Wilde. But in the title role of the pinball wizard is Paul Keating. Assuming he is no relation to the Australian Prime Minister, it is appropriate in the context to ask: Who? In the past few months, you'd have had more chance of spotting him in the stockroom at Tesco's than you would of seeing him on stage.

Keating was one of 7,000 applicants for the part, seven of whom were well-known pop singers. (The producer, Andre Ptaszynski, isn't naming names, but admits that one candidate had been in Neighbours.) Even more remarkably, Keating is only 19 years old - and if I were a barman I wouldn't serve him without ID. We meet at the BBC's rehearsal rooms in west London. He's wearing a nerdy bright-green polo-neck and has a fashionless schoolboy haircut; he's amiable, small and slender, and slightly gawky in his movements - nothing like the Roger Daltrey-ish rock beast I'd imagined. Not only is he hardly the type to throw televisions out of windows, it's a moot point whether he'd be able to lift a TV set at all. "To have someone who looks so pure become a messiah figure adds to the effect," explains Ptaszynski.

Keating has been publicised as an innocent lad plucked from the supermarket shelves and flung into the limelight; in fact, he already has a gilded CV. At 12 he was Gavroche in Les Miserables ("the best year of my life," he says, though 1996 is looking good); at 13 he starred in a BBC drama, The Troublemakers. After that he concentrated on school, but managed to fit in "a couple of radio plays". When he left school, he understudied in Lost in Yonkers, bought a car with his wages, and took the Tesco job so he could afford to run it.

He hadn't heard of Tommy until he saw an advert in the Stage in July 1995 which asked for someone around his age with a "rock tenor" voice. And so began four months of auditions. At most of these was Pete Townshend, The Who's guitarist, who also sits in on rehearsals nearly every day. To Keating, he is just "Pete": "I didn't grow up knowing The Who or Pete," he says matter-of-factly, in a soft East End accent, "so to me he's just a nice bloke who happened to write the show. It's the same with Kim Wilde. She's a lovely gel."

Keating's background is another reason why he got the part, rather than the original Broadway actor. "For all of us there is a sense that this is the musical being seen in its home town for the first time," says Ptaszynski. "That sets up demands of accent and location that don't apply on Broadway. Unlike Ken Russell's film, it's not a picaresque 60s-70s thing; it's a perfectly planted show about growing up after the Second World War. It's as London-based as Oliver!, and you'd never put on Oliver! in the West End with an American cast."

Keating was born at Bart's Hospital, which makes him an official Cockney, and he still lives with his parents in Romford. "I don't know if I'll move, I'll see how it goes," he says, shockingly nice and unpretentious for an ex-child star. "It's good to have a bit of normality. It's gonna be a bit of a culture shock for me. I think I'll need a slap back into place occasionally - and my Mum and Dad'll be pleased to do that." Keating's Mum is a supervisor at Mori, his Dad is a police superintendent. His 22- year-old sister is an assistant producer for Cameron Mackintosh, but Paul seems unaffected by the world of theatre. When asked if he has any role models, he answers no, but to be helpful he nominates Judi Dench, after much brain-racking.

In the last weeks of rehearsals, it's only to be expected that he hasn't thought what he'll do next. But it's unlikely that he'll have to take up Tesco's offer of his old job back. Has he any idea where he'll be in 10 years' time? "Oh God, no. Hopefully I'll have my own place by then." Rock'n'roll!

! 'Tommy': Shaftesbury Theatre, W1 (0171 379 5399), previews from tomorrow, opens on 5 March.

'TOMMY': THE WHAT, WHEN AND WHERE OF THE WHO'S HIT MUSICAL

May 1969: The Who premiere Tommy for the British press at Ronnie Scott's club in London.

June 1969: The album reaches No 2 in the UK charts.

June 1970: The Who play the "final performance" of Tommy at New York's Metropolitan Opera House, the first time a rock act had performed at the Met.

1971: Montreal's Les Grands Ballets Canadiens stage a dance "interpretation".

1972: The London Symphony Orchestra (with guests Richard Harris, Rod Stewart, etc) record their version.

1972: An all-star LSO performance at the Rainbow Theatre in London features David Essex, Peter Sellers, Bill Oddie, Jon Pertwee and Elkie Brooks.

1975: Audiences sit through Ken Russell's incomprehensible film, with Elton John, Tina Turner et al.

1979: Tommy returns to the West End stage - without

The Who.

April 1993: Rewritten, with extra songs and a stronger storyline, The Who's Tommy opens on Broadway, where it picks up five Tony awards.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate