It’s all about Sting. Although he does not appear in the show – Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner better known as STING (singer/songwriter/instrumentalist) wrote its musical score that somehow blends one song into another with a melancholy Celtic lilt here and there. If you leave the theatre with the tune of “The Last Ship” and “”We’ve Got Now’t Else” firmly imbedded in your mind it’s because they have reprised them over and over until you have been hypnotized by them.
Not that the score hasn’t a highlight or two. There is a beautiful “What Say You Meg?” sung by Aaron Lazar and “It’s Not the Same Moon” by Michael Esper and the British firebrand Rachael Tucker. A couple of numbers could be cut without missing them one iota making for a shorter evening at the Neil Simon Theatre.
Sting may not be appearing in this underwhelming, dark, gloomy and quasi romantic folk opera but the echo of his voice resounds throughout. Especially in the casting of his alter ego Gideon (Mr. Esper) and Jack White (a forceful Jimmy Nail) the foreman of the Wallsend shipyard that is to be shut down. Lest we forget who wrote the piece and that it is his young life in Northern England that inspired this venture.
Young Gideon (Collin Kelly-Sordelet) wants out even though his dad and his dad and his dad earned their living working in the shipyard. He leaves. But not before trying to get the love of his life Young Meg (Dawn Cantwell) to leave with him. She stays. Fifteen years later dad dies and a downtrodden and quite unsympathetic Gideon returns (Michael Esper) hoping to hook up again with Meg (Rachael Tucker) who has fallen for and is about to marry the more dependable Arthur (Aaron Lazar) who works for the company that has bought the shipyard and who has been dad to her fifteen year old son Tom (Collin Kelly-Sordelet). Do the math. No surprises here. Maybe a knowing groan.
So there is a love triangle that because of the problematic shipyard turns into a rectangle entangling the plot as the out of work workers vow to build THE LAST SHIP so that we will be hypnotized by the aforementioned tunes. What IS crystal clear is the sound design by Brian Ronan.
Who will Meg choose? Will Gideon bond with his son Tom? Will Arthur help his ex-co-shipbuilders? Will the last ship be built? Of course it will with the help of Father O’Brien (a delightful Fred Applegate) a priest who swears and drinks with his flock at the local pub and who misappropriates church funds to fund the building of the last ship – that we never see as it is nigh impossible to show a ship being built on stage. And once it is built the workers are still out of a job and nowhere to go except board the boat to God knows where as Young Gideon at the onset of his journey. Closure, of a sort.
The dance movements have been choreographed by Steven Hoggett – who did similar duty for ONCE. Too similar. Big mistake. In ONCE they were fresh and innovative and worked beautifully. In THE LAST SHIP they just remind us of the much better all-around production called ONCE. There is still time to catch it before it sails off into the distance in January.
The surprisingly choppy and foggy book is written by John Logan (RED) and Brian Yorkey (NEXT TO NORMAL) – two terrific shows. Direction is by Joe Mantello (WICKED). As the saying goes “you are only as good as your last show” in this case THE LAST SHIP or is it The Lost Ship?
Photos: Joan Marcus
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