Famed pop icon Sting began work on this, his first musical, in 2011. THE LAST SHIP was inspired by Sting’s childhood in Northumberland, England, a time of chaos for the shipbuilding industry. With music and lyrics by Sting from a book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey, the original version of THE LAST SHIP was first produced in Chicago and then moved to Broadway in 2014, receiving two Tony nominations for best original score and best orchestration. An album of the original Broadway cast was released in 2014. Subsequently, THE LAST SHIP was revised from a new book by Lorne Campbell and sent on a U.K. national tour followed by a six-week run in Toronto, Canada. In 2020, Sting inaugurates his memoir musical with a U.S. national tour which debuts at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles.
THE LAST SHIP reflects Sting’s extensive talents in composing both music and lyrics. This tale of the end of the shipbuilding era contains four songs from earlier Sting albums with the balance specifically written for the show. THE LAST SHIP is set in Sting’s childhood home in North East England in 1986. To quote Sting (Center Theatre Group magazine, January 2020): “I’m repaying a debt, if you like, to the community that raised me, that created me…I started to revisit the people I’d known in that community, the people who worked in the shipyard, the people who were my neighbors, the people who were my friends…I wanted to write a story about the richness and the value of community, the spirit of community.”
THE LAST SHIP tells the tale of Sting growing up in the tight-knit community of Wallsend on Tyne, where shipbuilding was king – until the shipyard closed and Sting’s world changed forever. Nearly everyone in Wallsend has a stake in building ships, a task that is almost part of their genetic makeup handed down from generations of proud ship builders dating from the thirteenth century. Even considering an alternate life style is unthinkable to these salt-of-the-earth men and women. But things change – and change is looming on the horizon as their beloved craft is going the way of the dodo bird. Union supporter and foreman Jackie White (Sting) can’t see any other options for him and his friends and neighbors – even though serious health problems are emerging which might make his future role superfluous. Meanwhile, Gideon Fletcher (Oliver Savile) returns home after an absence of 17 years to find his old flame Meg Dawson (Frances McNamee) – and discovers that he is the father of a teen (Sophie Reid as Ellen Dawson) he never met.
The writer of the new book, Lorene Campbell, also serves as director for THE LAST SHIP; he proves to be efficient and successful in both endeavors. The cast is large and multi-talented, singing and dancing with abandon. Like the director, Sting had a dual role as composer of the music and lyrics and also one of the lead actors, Jackie White. The music ranges from melancholy to rousing, and the lyrics tell their story effectively. Again, Sting shines in both roles. Frances McNamee, Jackie Morrison (as Peggy White), and Oliver Savile ace their roles with flying colors. The production crew is strong, with special kudos to the designers of the stage projections, sometimes awe-inspiring. Overall, THE LAST SHIP is a winner – but could use some judicious editing to its two and one half hours. As one audience member quipped, “I never thought that ship would sail.” In the case of THE LAST SHIP, less might be more.
THE LAST SHIP runs through February 16, 2010, with performances at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, at 1 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sundays (no 6:30 p.m. performance on Sunday 1/16 and added performance at 2 p.m. on Thursday 1/13). The Ahmanson Theatre is located in the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Tickets range from $35 to $199. For information and reservations, call 213-972-4400 or go online.