British labor strife and worker angst have been a popular topic in recent British-based musicals. From The Full Monty (steelworkers), to Billy Elliott (coal mining), to Kinky Boots (shoe making) the threat of unemployment and the clashes that ensue have been a driving force. Now comes the latest entry, the musical The Last Ship, with its on the dole group of ship builders. Unfortunately, unlike the aforementioned group of shows, The Last Ship has a muddled book with characters and scenarios you just don’t care about. The score by the rock musician, Sting, is reminiscent of his solo career as opposed to his time with the group, The Police. The songs and lyrics, especially the first two numbers of the production, are soaring, creative highs. Many of his other pieces are more meditative in style.
So, what’s wrong with the storyline? There are three issues:
1. There are no real sustained dramatic markers in the musical.
2. I didn’t care about the characters
3. I didn’t find the characters very likeable.
Add in some unexplained plot developments and you have to wonder what book writers John Logan (Tony Award for Red) and Brian Yorkey (Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for Next to Normal) were thinking? The show is a somber piece and you could take it as a metaphor for the demise of able-bodied laborers in the industrial West, but there needs to be more to keep the audience interested.
Sting’s score can be evocative of maritime shantays and celebrations. Other times the songs are introspective and ebullient. Overall, they are different from your normal Broadway fare, which gives the production some soul. I think my admiration for the music and lyrics would grow even more upon further listens.
The cast was uniformily fine, but only Fred Applegate as the colorful town priest had any distinguishing characteristics worth noting. Michael Esper as Gideon Fletcher, the boy who ran away and returned a man, was too self-conflicting to really understand his constantly deviating motives and emotions. The intentions and passions of Rachel Tucker as Gideon’s long forgotten girlfriend, Meg Dawson, came across as ingenuine, and Jimmy Nail as shipyard foreman, Jackie White, was too stoic.
Steven Hoggett’s choreography was stilted and revolved around too much stomping. Director Joe Mantello, who has such a pedigreed past, almost seemed like he didn’t know what to do with the large cast. While the main characters would be out front the rest of the cast just ambled about. The bar scene, the ship building set-up just lacked purpose. I would almost like to see this as a City Center Encores! production where you could more closely focus on the music.
The Last Ship, wait for the cast recording.