INSPIRED BY STING’S 1991 “THE SOUL CAGES”, THE LAST SHIP’ TELLS THE STORY OF UNION AND FAMILY PRIDE
THE LAST SHIP has docked at the Golden Gate theatre to end the winter season. Sting’s memories of growing up near the shipyards of north England, have been revamped for this National Tour. THE LAST SHIP is now on stage at Broadway SF through March 22nd and is directed/rewritten by Lorne Campbell. Broadway’s Joe Mantello who directed the first production needed Sting on stage to sell the show that closed just after three months. The original almost three hour version was written by John Logan and Brian Yorkey based on Sting’s Music and Lyrics. In a recent interview in the SF Cron Sting says “It’s been an amazing adventure, immensely difficult, immensely frustrating, but also exciting and fun.”
Sting at 68 feels at home with this National Tour cast “One of them said a really nice thing: ‘I totally forget you’re Sting. You’re just another actor.’ That was the best compliment I could have ever received/ He didn’t say I was good; he said, ‘You’re just another actor.” The story is semi-autobiographical, Sting told the Sf Cron “all aspects of me are in this play/ I’m from that community. I was born and raised there. The ship looming over the street”. The young Gordon Sumner played in the shipyards as a boy: “is what I saw as a child, my grandfather worked there; my father built turbines. I thought, I don’t want this — this is the last thing I want.” Of course he went on to become an icon of the music world with 17 Grammy Awards and over a million in record sales. Sting made it clear “there will never be a jukebox musical based on my greatest hits”.
In the 1980s Margaret Thatcher changed the gains of generations of union people, and closed many shipping yards in towns north of England. THE LAST SHIP views the struggle through the eyes of prodigal son, Gideon Fletcher, played by the gifted Oliver Savile, a runaway dreamer who became a sailor rather than, as his controlling dad desired, a shipbuilder. Returning to Wallsend after fifteen years of literal drifting, he finds a lot of unfinished business: A shipyard which can’t be salvaged and will soon be scrap; memories of his dead father; friendships cut short by Gideon’s need to leave his town and escape. His love for Meg Dawson played by the stunning Frances McNamee. As the union foreman White (Sting) is dying as we see him cough. The dark undertow creates some moody scenes between Jackie and his wife Peggy played by Jackie Morrison. His wife, refusing to face his death, and Gideon and the townsfolk refusing his illness. The workers are inspired by a plan to invade the cold shipyard and steal the unfinished ship, and proclaim their victory to all workers.
Sting’s score includes love songs and anthems including "If You Ever See Me Talking to a Sailor" and a duet with Savile, "What Say You, Meg?" His "And Yet". Powerful ballads “August Winds,” “So to Speak”, the bittersweet “We’ve Got Nowt Else”, and the charming song Gideon sings “And Yet” and the winning trio “Dead Man’s Boots”. The shipyard story also includes some foot stomping anthems belted out by the yard workers, welders, and their female mates. Sting’s uplifting songs are original to both versions of the show, and range from the soaring opening number “What do we Want” to the hand clapping romp “When We Danced”. Sting sings the banner song “The Last Ship” as the first Act ends.
The craft team includes a video design by 59 Productions that opens up the stationary set that at times becomes a living film. It is a versatile set of catwalks and screens convincing as the dock, church, and a pub. The waves crash against the seawall, silver clouds sail by. The lighting by Matt Daw is meant to be dark and grim, it was effective but many times I could not see the actors faces or reactions. I wanted someone to have a flashlight on the dock. The eight member orchestra under the direction of Richard John sits off stage left with a lone piano on stage. Movement director Lucy Hind and the busy fight scenes coached by Bethan Clark bring the company an authentic feel.
Act II begins with a group of shipyard women singing directly to audience members with the house lights up as if we were in a pub “Mrs Dees Rant” brings the sold out opening night audience closer to the story. Unfortunately this ship doesn’t have the flair it needs to get out of the dock. The new book by Campbell does have some passionate dialogue, and this West End cast are all superb, but the characters are predictable and Campbell’s direction is flat. Sting is now doing eight shows a week on this tour and here in San Francisco. During the Broadway production he joined the show briefly, the producers called him to help fill seats and earn back their lost funds.
It is a pleasure for audiences who get to experience this icon talent on stage while he is here in San Francisco. The musical is still smoothing out some bumps and it's my bet this version will return to New York. BroadwaySF salutes local union members with an exclusive ticket offer to THE LAST SHIP. To honor their contributions, members of all creative and labor unions may purchase Mezzanine and Balcony seats using promo code UNION for $64 tickets up to 50% off, to attend a performance at select performances. The dates for these performances are below. As always you can also get day of show 40.00 RUSH SEATS at the box office two hours before each performance. Next up at the Golden Gate is the return of THE BOOK OF MORMON opens March 30th. In the meantime it is well worth a visit to THE LAST SHIP and see a rock icon perform his important work.
BROADWAY SF PRESENTS
The Last Ship
Directed and Book by
Original book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey
Music Directors Rob Mathes and Richard John,
Music and Lyrics by Sting
Through March 22, 2020
Golden Gate Theater, 1 Taylor St., SF.
Running time 2 hours 30 min with one intermission
*Sting interview https://datebook.sfchronicle.com/ by Lisa Fung
PHOTOS BY Matthew Murphy
Union Offer Performances – Use Promo Code: Union
Wednesday, February 26 at 7:30pm
Thursday, February 27 at 7:30pm
Tuesday, March 3 at 7:30pm
Wednesday, March 4 at 7:30pm
Friday, March 6 at 8:00pm
Tuesday, March 10 at 7:30pm
Wednesday, March 11 at 7:30pm
Tuesday, March 17 at 7:30pm
Wednesday, March 18 at 7:30pm
Friday, March 20 at 8:00pm
Sting - What Have We Got? (Live At The Public Theater)