The Last Ship – Pre-Broadway World Premere

broadway in chicagoMusic and Lyrics by Sting

Book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey

Directed by Joe Mantello

Musical Direction by Ron Mathes

Choreography by Steven Hoggett

Produced by Broadway In Chicago

At the Bank of America Theatre, Chicago

A grand epic Broadway musical is launched to the delight of everyone!

The Bank of America Theatre in Chicago is the scene of an historical event: the launching of a powerful, masculine, working-man’s musical- The Last Ship.  With Sting’s friends James Taylor, Dennis DeYoung and Paul Simon in the audience, Sting sure delieverd a fabulous show for all. The Last Ship is an ode to those blue collar workers who dedicated themselves to ship building for generations in the Northern Englsh town of Wallsend, near Newcastle. It is Sting’s (aka Gordon Sumner) nostalgic journey back to his youthful roots. Through a wonderful melodic score that blends pop, Celtic folk, even some Latin rhythms into rich ballads, powerful anthems and stirring  love songs, Sting ends his eight year writer’s block with a heart-felt journey back to his youth. Sting’s first Broadway musical score is a major triumph!  The music is fresh, original and inventive.

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The Last Ship hints to Billy Elliott, The Full Monty, Kinky Boots, even to Once as all those shows honor English working class folks struggling to survive in a changing world. But, I must say, that Sting’s score is more complex and rich in emotional strength that sings out its key moments thus it plays as an epic opera. This pre-Broadway production is near finished as the talented creative team of John Logan. Joe Mantello, Steven Hoggett and Ron Mathes aided Sting into mounting a tight, fluid and polished world premiere. This show will quickly be recognized as the “next big thing” on Broadway. It is that strong! It is further along than The Producers was when it opened here.

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The Last Ship is set in a close-knit shipbuilding town where life has always revolved around the local shipyard, the pubs and the church. These hardworking and hard drinking workers sing and lament the hardships of their labor. Sting’s early songs, “Island of  Souls” and “Shipyard” evoke the deep emotion of these tough folks while Meg Dawson (Rachel Tucker) gets the women’s view of life in “August Winds.”

We learn about why Gideon Fletcher (Michael Esper) defies his mean father Joe (Jamie Jackson) by not becoming a ship builder but opting for a life as a sailor. Gideon is lured by the call of the sea.  The influence of the Catholic Church in Wallsend community is spearheaded by the charismatic, earthy Father O’Brien (Fred Applegate)  who chides the workers to build one last ship in the haunting signature song “The Last Ship.” We hear the commanding foreman Jackie White (Jimmy Nail) as he motivates the workers to build the last ship with him in “We ‘ve Got Now ‘t Else.”

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Meanwhile Gideon’s old girlfriend Meg, now 15 years later, has long moved on as Gideon failed to return is counted by Arthur Millburn (Aaron Lazar) toward marriage. He has been a father -figure to 15 year old Tom (Collin Kelly-Sordelet), Meg’s son. Millburn proposes once again to Meg in the wonderful tune “What Say you, Meg.”

When Gideon returns to Wallsend, he finds the town is dying as the shipyard is closing. He also learns that Meg is not friendly as she feels abandoned by Gideon years ago.  Once he learns that Tom is his son, things change for both and they bond while in jail in the cute waltz tune “The Night the Pugilist Learned How to Dance.”

Gideon tries to get Meg to choose him over the steady Millburn in “It’s Not the Same Moon.” Father O’ Brien’s death motivates workers to finish the ship despite the legal restraints.

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Things come to a head as Jackie White and the company sing the rousing “Underground River.” Once the ship is finished, the builders with Gideon and the foreman Jackie White in command decide to sail the ship in a symbolic ode to the European shipbuilders.

The Last Ship is a major achievement. It is big, bold and melodic; emotionally driven and truthful to the workers. Sting’s score is,  indeed, his opus, as it blends styles with loads of heart. David Zim’s masculine set and Christopher Akerland’s lighting enhance the atmosphere of the shipbuilding town marvelously.

I believe this show is almost ready to be a major hit. The character of Gideon could be perceived as a tad more likable and the town’s reaction of Gideon’s return could be lass hostile since I think they would want to hear  about Gideon’s adventures at sea. But those as small adjustments, the core of The Last Ship is in place and it is quite impressive. Catch it now before it goes to Broadway.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: June 25, 2014

For more info checkout The Last Ship page at theatreinchicago.com

At the Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe, Chicago, IL, call 800-775-2000, www.broadwayinchicago.com, tickets $33 -$100,  Tuesdays thru Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 2 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 & 7:30, Wednesday matinees at 2 pm on July 2 & 9, running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with intermission, through July 13, 2014

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