Music legend, Sting marks his theater composing debut with The Last Ship, one of the most eagerly anticipated musicals of the year. Sting began working on his passion project back in 2011, taking inspiration from his 1991 album, The Soul Cages, which details his childhood experiences growing up next to the Wallsend shipyards. On Wednesday, the American Tour production playing at CTGLA’s Ahmanson brought out Hollywood’s crème de la crème including Lawrence Fishburne, Pierce Brosnan, Melanie Griffith, and even the adorable young, Iain Armitage (HBO’s Big Little Lies).
Instead of the usual curtain up, the cast quietly approached the stage and interacted with the audience and each other while already in character. The music started and the stage came to life with the huge projected backdrop of a moody gray sky set against the giant metal structure serving as a shipyard. From then on, the stage morphed seamlessly into a pub, church, and even a cozy home thanks to stunning projections, lighting, and screen drops created by 59 Productions.
Director, Lorne Campbell (Cyrano De Bergerac, Dr. Frankenstein) has made sure to reflect the gritt and industrial strength of the set design in the performances of the denizens facing the collapse of not just their livelihood, but their entire way of life as capitalism encroaches. The Last Ship is an inspirational portrayal of this small community that decides to take a big leap of faith by taking over the shipyard and keeping it operational when the owners announce their plans for closure. The ship under construction is appropriately entitled The Utopia, a metaphor for the haven they’re struggling to preserve.
Woven into this struggle is also a poignant love story that gives the musical it’s wistful enchantment. Oliver Savile is Gideon Fletcher (Wicked, CATS), the son of a shipyard worker who dreams of a different life and doesn’t want to step into his father’s shoes. When he leaves town to pursue the unknown, he promises his childhood love, Meg, played by the feisty Frances McNamee (Les Miserables, A Christmas Carol) that he’ll soon return. But Gideon is gone for 17 long years, and when he finally returns, of course, Wallsend is not the home he remembers, now mired with picket lines, strikes, takeovers and impending unemployment. There’s another surprise in store. He has a 16-year-old daughter, Ellen played in firecracker performance by Sophie Reid (Game Of Thrones, Beauty And The Beast) who, in fruit from the tree fashion, can’t wait to get as far away as she can possible from this asphyxiating town. Megan, too, has changed. Tired of waiting for him to return, she’s become more pragmatic, less gullible. Her journey is revealed in a touching monologue to her daughter, which garnered a well-deserved round of applause from the audience.
Sting and Jackie Morrison (Pygmalion, EastEnders) play the older foreman and his wife, Jackie and Peggy White, who drive the strike-force against the owner of the shipyard. Their mature love story is a fine contrast to the younger couple, and scene-stealing tender. Sting’s score, with its waves of haunting ballads, rowdy tavern ditties and foot-stomping work songs, creates a colorful tableau. Fans will delight in the inclusion of his hit ballads, When We Danced, and All This Time.
Nowadays, we’re no strangers to industrial decline and its effect on real, working-class people. The Last Ship is a poignant yet uplifting portrayal of the power of the human spirit, and why it’s worth fighting for the things and people we cherish.
— Victor Riobo
The Last Ship featuring Sting is playing at CTGLA Ahmanson through February 16th. Tickets HERE.