“For what are we men without a ship to complete?”
The logic of theatre being what it is, an original musical by Sting about the decline of the shipbuilding industry in the north-east of England opened on Broadway in 2014 and has still yet to be seen here in the UK. I saw it at the Neil Simon Theatre and whilst The Last Ship didn’t have the strongest book, I did think the brooding melancholy of the folk-inflected score would carry it further than the four months it managed.
Its primary delight is Rachel Tucker’s Meg, a dynamic vocal presence who can’t help but stand out in everything she sings, whether the delicacy of ‘August Winds’, the tearjerking ‘It’s Not The Same Moon’, or the bawdy fun of ‘If You Ever See Me Talking to a Sailor’. Along with the excellent Michael Esper (now familiar to us in the UK thanks to Lazarus and The Glass Menagerie), she makes a real highlight out of ‘When We Dance’ (a re-purposed track from Sting’s back catalogue).
The most handsome Aaron Lazar also shines as supporting male lead Arthur and if I can’t ever quite bring myself to be that enthusiastic about Jimmy Nail, he is well suited to the role here. It’s not so surprising that Sting can create such powerful solo and duet moments, what is/was pleasing to discover is how much he revels in the power of the ensemble, in composing such anthemic tracks as ‘Island of Souls’ and ‘The Last Ship’ to bookend the show.
Haunting and poetic, this is music to savour and I really hope the UK gets the chance to experience it in full in a theatre soon.