Oct 26, 2014
You want to love Sting’s “The Last Ship.” It’s a serious-minded show with a new score, not a jukebox of musty hits. It even offers an original story, inspired by Sting’s childhood in northeast England.
In other words, this is a grown-up musical the way Sting is a grown-up musician — offering literate, haunting ballads and well-crafted, pop-folky barnburners. It’s also overly earnest and a wee bit grandiose. This duality is reflected in the show’s two overlapping stories. One is very effective, the other not so much.
The closing of the shipyards in Wallsend spurs Gideon (Michael Esper) to return to his hometown after 15 years as a sailor. It’s too late to reconcile with his late, estranged dad, but maybe there’s hope for a life with Meg (Rachel Tucker), the girl he left behind.
Except she’s now living with Arthur (Aaron Lazar), the only guy who had the sense to get a job outside the yards. Together they’re raising Meg’s son, Tom (Collin Kelly-Sordelet) — the offspring Gideon didn’t know he had.
The book by John Logan (“Red”) and Brian Yorkey (“Next to Normal”) weaves those plotlines together fairly well, since life and work are so inextricably tied in Wallsend.
Prodded by the local priest (Fred Applegate), the unemployed men set out to build one last ship on their own.
Yet their efforts are less involving than the story’s love triangle. Meg’s hesitation between Arthur and Gideon seems very real, and Tucker gives her character palpable angst. It also helps that the trio gets great ballads.
The production is handsomely staged by Joe Mantello, while Steven Hoggett (“Once”) contributes his trademark “don’t call it dancing” movement — characters launch into synchronized steps as if in a collective dream.
In many ways, “The Last Ship” is a shaky raft trying to balance too many things, too predictably. But its heart-on- the-sleeve honesty helps keep it afloat.