Sting Joins the Cast of “The Last Ship”

Hoping to Prevent “The Last Ship” from Sinking

the last shipThe sexiest thing about the production of the floundering new musical The Last Ship has always been its composer and lyricist, Sting – who has been nominated for the Grammy Awards 38 times, and has won for 11 of them. He has been inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame, has also won 25 American Music Awards, and has also acted in films ranging from Quadrophenia in 1979 to The Adventures of Baron Munchausen in 1988, and 20 Feet from Stardom in 2013. However, since it began previews on September 29, 2014, The Last Ship has not been performing well at the box office. It has never earned more than $575,155 in one week, and it has never made more than 51.62% of its weekly gross potential.

A Last-Ditch Effort to Save the Last Shipsting last ship

Starting December 9, 2014, however, Sting decided to make a last-ditch effort to save his beloved musical tale of the last ship built by an English seafaring town. He entered the cast in the role of Jackie White, a foreman of the shipyard. Though he is not the main role, he is on stage about 40% of the time, and he sings tunes such as one that has been particularly beloved with fans “Island of Souls.” The show takes place in his hometown and is semi-autobiographical. It is unclear whether the role of Jackie White is the autobiographical part, but it is most likely that Sting’s personal experience overlaps more with the protagonist Gideon Fletcher played by Michael Esper, but that at this age it was more appropriate for Sting to take on the role of White.

An Extension to Six Weeks

Though it was first announced that Sting would be in the show for four weeks only, from December 9, 2014 to January 10, 2015, it has recently been announced that Sting will stay on an additional two weeks until January 24, 2015. Perhaps he was just getting into his groove, and wanted to stick around for a bit longer, or perhaps the replacement they found had a scheduling conflict. Sting stepped in to replace Jimmy Nail as Jackie White; Nail is a British actor for whom this is his Broadway debut. It is most likely that Nail will come back in following Sting’s departure, allowing Nail to still be paid as an understudy, but Sting performing the role with an endnote that is somewhat flexible.

“The Last Ship” Opens on Broadway

Sting’s First Broadway Effort

the last shipOn October 26, 2014, The Last Ship opened at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre. It had been running in previews since September 29, 2014. With music and lyrics by 16-time Grammy Award winner Sting, the musical has a book by John Logan (Red, I’ll Eat You Last) and Brian Yorkey (Next to Normal, If/Then). Furthermore, the show is directed by Joe Mantello (Casa Valentina, Other Desert Cities) and choreographed by Steven Hoggett (Once, Rocky). The show tells the story of the citizens of an English seafaring town whose shipping business is on its last legs. The protagonist, a man named Gideon Fletcher, left home as a young man to seek greater adventures, but returns to find that his father’s business is failing and his one true love has pledged herself to another. The denizens come together in a grand collaborative effort to build one last ship, representing the dream that they have shared and their passion to keep it alive despite the hardships they are facing. Sting crafted this musical following his own experience growing up in Newcastle, and it shares a name with his eleventh album, The Last Ship, which came out in September 2013. This is the first time Sting has written a show for the stage.

The Reviews Are In

The reviews are in, and critics are mixed in their appreciation of the show. Charles Isherwood of The New York Times deemed it the last shipambitious and earnest, but couldn’t help but criticize it for being unfocused. There are two conflicting storylines – the romantic subplot and the main story of the seafaring town’s struggle – and they never come together in a coherent or satisfying way. He lauded the score for being one of the best composed by a Broadway outsider (that is, a singer-songwriter or otherwise established musician trying his or her hand on Broadway), which is a kind of underwhelming compliment. And though he appreciated the performances of the talented actors, he acknowledged the show is disadvantaged by its somber themes in comparison to the peppier shows competing for ticketbuyers’ attention. David Cote of Time Out New York, on the other hand, was more positive in his review. He called the show fervent and glorious, and yet he still admitted the book was lacking in comparison to the score. Mark Kennedy of the Associated Press appreciated the testosterone level of the show, and was enervated by the score and the story both. David Rooney of the Hollywood Reporter praised the show for returning to the concept of the original Broadway musical, with true soul in its roots, although he was still on the fence about the show’s overall success.

Struggling at the Box Office

Though more than a week has passed since these reviews came out, theatregoers do not seem to be encouraged to purchase tickets due to their increased awareness of the show’s existence. In the week ending November 2, 2014, the show grossed $495,069, which was actually a decrease of $51,845 from the week before and the show’s lowest weekly gross to date. This represents only 39.82% of the show’s gross potential, with an average paid ticket price of $78.17. Perhaps the show needs to discount more, but that will only take it so far. With mixed reviews, less than upbeat themes, and a highly competitive Broadway season full of Hollywood stars and compelling musical brands, The Last Ship may have a hard time staying afloat for very much longer.

“The Last Ship” Begins Previews on Broadway

Sting’s Debut as a Musical Theatre Composer

the last shipThe 16-time Grammy Award winning musician Sting has written his first musical: The Last Ship. Set in an English seafaring town called Wallsend, Tyne and Wear, the musical is based off some of Sting’s own childhood experiences. The protagonist is a young man named Gideon Fletcher, who grew up in this shipping town but dreams of a different life for himself. Though he is expected to follow in his father’s footsteps, he decides to leave home and take a trip around the world. 14 years later, he returns home to discover that the industry is in dire straits, and meanwhile that his childhood sweetheart has found another man to be her fiancé. Gideon, along with the men of the town, endeavors to build one last ship, proving to themselves and to the world that they have power within them.

The Show’s Pre-Broadway Life

The first recorded instance of the show being performed was an early try-out in Newcastle, England at the Live Theatre. More recently, the show was given a pre-Broadway run at Chicago’s Bank of America Theatre from June 10, 2014 until July 13, 2014. Previews have now begun at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre, with the first performance having taken place on September 29, 2014. Opening night is scheduled for October 26, 2014. Reviews in Chicago were less than ecstatic. The book was written by John Logan (Red, I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers) and Brian Yorkey (Next to Normal, If/Then), but despite the pedigree of these writers, many found the libretto to be implausible, and the story to be dreary. Fans have come to expect that a musical will be somewhat upbeat, and perhaps the story of this struggling English shipping town is not America’s cup of tea.

Cast and Creative Team

sting

Sting

In addition to the book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey, and the music and lyrics by Sting, the show is directed by Joe Mantello (Casa Valentina, Other Desert Cities, Glengarry Glen Ross) and choreographed by Steven Hoggett (Once, Rocky, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time). Though this is Sting’s first musical, he has previously ventured out of traditional songwriting territory when co-writing the score for the 2000 Disney animated film The Emperor’s New Groove. Furthermore, Sting released a musical album in 2013 entitled The Last Ship, which features music from the musical, or originally intended for it. He had not released an album prior to that since 2003 with Sacred Love, and credits the show for motivating him to craft a new slew of songs. The cast features Broadway favorites including Michael Esper (The Lyons, American Idiot) and Aaron Lazar (A Little Night Music, The Light in the Piazza), as well as West End star Rachel Tucker making her Broadway debut. Further cast members include Jimmy Nail, Fred Applegate, Sally Ann Triplett, and Collin Kelly-Sordelet.

“Casa Valentina” Begins Previews on Broadway

Tonight at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, previews will commence for the Manhattan Theatre Club production of Casa Valentina, a world premiere play written by four-time Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein.  Directed by two-time Tony Award winner Joe Mantello, the play will run for a limited engagement between April 1, 2014 and June 15, 2014, with the official opening night taking place on April 23, 2014.  Fierstein, who has seen enormous success in penning the book for musicals including Kinky Boots, Newsies, and La Cage aux Folles, has not had a straight play produced in almost thirty years.  Well, none of Harvey Fierstein’s content is ever “straight,” per say.

casa-susanna is the basis for the Casa Valentina Broadway Show

casa-susanna is the basis for the Casa Valentina Broadway Show

Casa Valentina is based on the true story of a group of New York men in the 1960s – white collar professionals with families – who vacationed in the Catskill Mountains during the summers.  Unlike most vacationers in that period, however, these men had a particular quirk: they dressed up as women.  Beyond assuming female wardrobe to a meticulous degree of detail, they also adopted the personalities of their female counterparts during the vacation.  While transvestitism has proliferated in our culture in many forms since that time, these men were truly transgressive, and yet they were still firmly embedded in conventional heterosexual culture in the course of their everyday lives.  The play introduces us to these unique individuals, and then follows them as they are confronted with a difficult choice: the opportunity to become an official organization, effectively outing their precious secret.

casa-susanna is the basis for the Casa Valentina Broadway Show

Just as interesting as the plot of the play, however, is the background of how this true story became uncovered.  Some time ago, a pair of antique collectors discovered a large collection of old photographs at a New York flea market.  When they realized that the gorgeous women depicted in the photographs were in fact men, which was not immediately obvious, they decided to publish them in a book entitled Casa Susanna.  The pictures alone tell the heartbreaking story of these conflicted souls.  However, what is exceedingly interesting is that none of the press releases about this new Broadway play refer to the original source material.

After purchasing the rights to this book of photographs, the producers Colin Callender, Robert Cole, and Frederick Zollo commissioned Harvey Fierstein to write a play based on the images.  To mitigate their risk in bringing an untried play directly to Broadway, they partnered with the Manhattan Theatre Club, and agreed to be credited as granting the production “by special arrangement.”  It is curious that the producers decided not only to change the name of the play to Casa Valentina from the original title of Casa Susanna, but also to neglect to mention the book of photographs in any press release.  Perhaps the reason was to protect the appearance of originality for Harvey Fierstein, and calling this a “world premiere” by Fierstein certainly implies that it was his idea in the first place, which it was not.

casa-susanna is the basis for the Casa Valentina Broadway Show

Of course, none of this background information would affect the quality of the play itself, which is to be seen in the coming weeks as previews unfold.  What does bode well is the extraordinary cast of Broadway stalwarts and up-and-comers, including Reed Birney, John Cullum, Gabriel Ebert, Larry Pine, and Patrick Page.  Under the skilled direction of Joe Mantello, and surely featuring Harvey Fierstein’s signature wit, this play could be a very exciting addition to the Broadway season.  Indeed, it would be a true achievement if Fierstein’s concocted narrative comes close to representing the understated yet superb beauty of the mysterious found photographs, which the producers of this play clearly do not want the audience to discover.