Just in time to make the holiday bucket list of things to do “The Last Ship” sails onto Broadway with spirited songs composed by pop idol Sting. Making his Broadway debut, the 63-year-old former lead Police singer and songwriter can now can add composer to his discography.
In a play inspired by the working class, sea-side, Wallsend community in England where he was born and raised, Sting adds symphony to debut on Broadway with a musical spotlight on a labor force that would rather work than quit.
Set in the northeast of England, the story unfolds when a developer buys a shipyard that for generations provide work and unite a close-knit group of dedicated employees.
There ships were built to supplement the economy. Construction was viewed with pride and celebrated in pubs and watering holes. The musical recently opened at the Neil Simon Theater to rave applause and joins the season’s most acclaimed new shows to open along the Great White Way.
The lively storyline celebrates the men and women that toil by devoting their lives to work. It focuses on Gideon Fletcher, (Michael Esper) a young-man determined to change his destined path through the workplace his father Joe (Jamie Jackson) and grandfather wore out work boots building sea cruisers.
Adventurous, enterprising and perhaps rebellious, coming of age as a teenaged Gideon (Collin Kelly-Sordelet) ultimately fulfills his dream to venture out from the shipyard community in order to seek a dream he harbored as a boy. In his quest to seek independence he leaves the girl he loves with a promise to return when he found security. After a decade and a half passes, Gideon returns to find the shipyard in a state of uncertainty. His arrival also coincides with the engagement of the girl he left behind, the one he told he would reclaim after traveling.
Threats to tear down the shipyard dominate conversations. The new owners plan to gentrify the community and their decision does not sit well with lifelong construction workers. It is the 70s and the defiant thing to is to rally to find a solution to the pressing issue.
The workers meet at a pub and there they strategize to override development of a high-rise community. Buoyed by the leadership of a priest named Father O’Brien (Fred Applegate), the defiant men galvanize to build the last ship. Needless to say, the collared preacher is not restrained by the cloth. He is profane, feisty and fearless of his bishop or the new owner.
“Work is a sacrament, an outward sign of inward grace,” Father O’Brien told his congregation. Gideon hears the sermon and realizes he must reclaim the job he passed on when he left a decade and a half earlier. Along with the workers he joins with former neighbors and friends to keep Swan-Hunter, the viable workplace and community familiar to residents.
The play reflects “real-life incidences, including a history-making ‘work-in’ at a Scottish shipyard in the ‘70s.”
Another to resonate is a ”recent project in Poland where a priest commandeered supplies and financial support so that a group of laymen could not only maintain work but also reclaim their pride and dignity by assembling a ship commissioned to sail the world.”
Produced on Broadway by Jeffrey Seller, Kathryn Schenker, Kevin McCollum, Sander Jacobs, James L. Nederlander, Roy Furman, Jerry Moss and Herb Alpert, a stellar collaboration executed direction by Tony-award winner Joe Mantello. Choreographed by Tony-award nominee Steven Hoggett, musical direction, orchestration and arrangements are by Grammy nominated producer Rob Mathes.
Standout performances from Esper, Applegate, Rachel Tucker, Jimmy Nail, Aaron Lazar, Sally Ann Triplett and Kelly-Sordelet brand this hilarious musical a winner in virtually every category for next year’s Tony Awards.
Although the storyline – written by Tony Award winner john Logan and Pulitzer Prize winner Brian Yorkey – provide an engaging and topical presentation, most alluring are the songs defined by the 16-time Grammy winner.
The songs are infectious, telling, lyrically appealing and complimentary to the tale.
“It’s a total novel experience for me. I’m out of my comfort zone, but very excited about it — terrified, and overjoyed to be here,” Sting said.
Evident in every song, his significant signature contribution dominates in every melody during welding, and hammering of the stern, bow and helm.
Musically connecting with the rudder, propeller, mast, keel, rigging, hull and sail, Sting’s compositions resonate as the soundtrack to score a sure winner. Even after the audience exits, his music play on to serenade happy crowds.
On opening night he joined the cast to sing the title song and on an afternoon matinee, I attended, Sting stood in the pit with musicians to urge on the musicians as they played to the very last note.
“The Last Ship” will likely sail alongside a regatta of winning vessels, however on its maiden voyage here, audiences are eager to dive to the stern to toast Gideon, the cast, a priest and the holy occasion.
Go for the journey, you’ll leave with a song.
In honor of the musical’s theme and Wallsend’s proud labor heritage in the Swan-Hunter shipyard, union members can receive a special discount by showing a union card when purchasing tickets at the box office at 250 West 52nd St.