“The Last Ship”, a new musical written by English vocal artist Sting, has docked at Pioneer Memorial Theatre. After a short-lived run on Broadway, this run marks its regional premiere in Salt Lake City.
Centered on the residents of a shipyard town called Wallsend and the return of a certain prodigal son, “The Last Ship” is a novel — if not risky — opener to PTC’s 2016-2017 season.
At first glance, the musical appears ordinary and almost boring. There aren’t many blockbuster musicals about ship-builders put out of work after all. Yet the story of a town full of men, stripped of their communal identity after the local shipyard closes, was surprisingly familiar as they sang of their longing for what once was. The fate of the town as revealed through protagonist Gideon Fletcher holds the themes of forgotten love, regret, the death of identity and sense of purpose, and the rebirth of hope and understanding. “The Last Ship” successfully steers its way through these themes with honesty and a humor that almost catches one off guard.
From the anxious young man eager to escape his circumstances only to bitterly return to finally face what he had been avoiding nearly his entire life, to a woman torn between the dreams of her younger self and the reality of the present, to a shipyard foreman feeling lost and without purpose when he is abruptly dismissed along with his entire crew, there is opportunity for the audience member to feel a connection, if not kinsmanship, with the characters from across the pond.
Composed by Sting, a performer made famous with his “Englishman in New York” hit, the musical begins with characters walking onto an open set, the first notes of “Island of Souls” rising to meet the audience. The score is as consistent as the ocean that inspired it; harsh one moment, gentle the next. The songs reflect the personality of the shipyard townspeople with rough inflections and strong beats, while the lyrics give away their human thoughts and feelings. Sting grants his characters moments of tenderness in songs such as “When We Dance” and “What Say You Meg,” and his unique sound creates a feeling of satisfaction as it directs the storytelling.
In the program, artistic director Karen Azenberg wrote that she found “The Last Ship” to be “relevant and affecting.” The combined efforts of James Noone and Michael Gilliam produced a fluid set marked with various ocean blue hues, both of which evolved with the characters and created the English shore that the people of Wallsend populated. Nearly entirely made up of Broadway veterans, the cast of “The Last Ship” dances on bar tables and across metal railings as they sing of tradition, pride and passion.
Be sure not to miss this talented production of “The Last Ship“ playing at the Pioneer Theatre from now until Oct 1. Get your tickets here, or if you are a student, arrive at the theatre an hour early to get $5 tickets the night of any performance. Keep in mind, you may need to show up even earlier on the evening of Sept. 23 if you want to avoid fighting for parking spots with the football crowds.
Photo Courtesy of Pioneer Theatre Company L-R: Seth Pike, Paul-Jordan Jansen, Ruthie Stephens, Lenny Daniel, Bryant Martin, Dan Sharkey, Cory Reed Stephens, Bailee Johnson and Anne Tolpegin