Sting’s new musical The Last Ship, starring Sting basically playing Sting, sets sail for the month at the Golden Gate Theatre after its Broadway run, and it is buoyed by a magnificent score.
1980s rock band The Police haven't (yet) gotten caught up in the cash cow arena rock reunion tour thing, presumably because the three members cannot stand each other. But the band’s illustrious frontman Gordon Thomas Sumner, whom you know better as Sting, has preferred to spend his autumn years dabbling in original musical theater rather than touring with Cheap Trick and Loverboy. To that end, Sting is in town for the next month with his retooled musical The Last Ship, which features music and lyrics written by Sting himself, richly deserving of its two Tony nominations in the 2015 production for Best Original Score and Best Orchestrations. (It lost on both counts to Fun Home and An American in Paris, respectively). But as shown in the clip below from The Late Late Show with James Corden, The Last Ship hits high notes in its musical compositions and its spirited portrayal of British working class bleakness.
That’s Jackie Morrison next to Sting, who’s as terrific live as she is in the above clip, and every single number in this production is captivating and hits its mark. There is a touch of Sting’s solo sound, and there is a sprinkling of songs from Sting solo albums that we are confident you haven’t heard before. But the score otherwise mixes folk rock with Broadway schmaltz to great effect, without a single letdown or snoozer number in the bunch. The dialogue and plot that strings them together, though, is much less memorable.
The play is described as “Completely reimagined since its Broadway debut in 2014” which is the diplomatic way of saying that it flopped on Broadway and they rewrote some of it so that audiences might like it better on the road. One of the critical complaints on the original is that female characters had so little speaking time, so that has been addressed, particularly in the play’s second act, which does not feature much Sting at all. But this story of a dying British ship town and its last gasp to save a prominent boat might confuse U.S. audiences with its thick and sometimes unintelligible heavy regional accents, which leave various plot points somewhat unclear.
The sets are breathtaking, and Anglophiles will be excited by the extremely on-point mid-1980s industrial-town period costumes. You’ll see some dazzling work with projections of shipyard buildings and fog — images that work well for San Francisco audiences in particular.
The Last Ship is a satisfying Sting star vehicle in the first half, with the supporting cast taking over in the second half. That’s where the fixes put women in plot more prominently, and Frances McNamee really shines in the role of a struggling single mom. The second act begins with something of a novelty song called "Mrs. Dees' Rant" that’s kind of unconnected to the play, and may have been shoehorned in — but it's one of the play’s most funny and effective numbers. The Last Ship tells its story very well in song, but the dialogue and characters are fairly one-dimensional, relying on the cast’s charisma to keep things afloat when you don’t have the novelty of Sting onstage.
That “thumbs under my lapels” pose that Sting so frequently strikes in the promotional photos was not on display at the show SFist attended last night. That’s because Sting had his right arm in a cast, in a way that was not referenced in the show, therefore Sting probably has a sprained or broken arm at the moment. So it’s great that he powered on and performed anyway, considering that without Sting, you hardly have much of a show here. He has substantially more star power and stage presence than his fellow cast members, and The Last Ship is very much his vessel. The heavy brogues may keep you from comprehending much of the dialog, and it’s not the sort of complicated plot that keeps you thinking for days afterward. But as far as a night of music or theater with an artist who’s inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame, The Last Ship is far more of an achievement than a rehash reunion concert or the standard paint-by-numbers jukebox musical.
‘The Last Ship’ plays through March 22 at the Golden Gate Theatre. Find tickets here.