October 23, 2017

“The Last Ship” rides the waves in Chicago

Having just seen “The Last Ship” at the Bank of America Theater (I still think of it as the Schubert), I have been in a quandary whether to recommend it or not. Most of the music sounds like it was written by Sting which for many will be a good thing; in fact more than one singing actor in the show sounds like Sting. Some of the lyrics use pretty pedestrian rhymes and there are aspects to the plot that leave you scratching your head. The show is predominantly realistic with the building and the launching of the “Last Ship” being incongruously magical and metaphorical. With that said, I found myself emotionally engaged by the end of the musical which doesn’t happen in the majority of shows I see. 

Stand-out performances include Michael Esper as the son, Gideon Fletcher who won’t follow in his father’s  ship-building boot steps, Rachel Tucker as Meg Dawson, the girl he leaves behind, Jimmy Nail as Jackie White, the leader of the laid-off Wallsend (near Newcastle, England) workers and the lovable Fred Applegate as Irish priest Father O’Brien. The group numbers are rousingly sung, backed up by excellent musicians with percussion being a key element. I would love to get a copy of “If You Ever See Me Talking to a Sailor,” my favorite song of the show, a delicious complaint song sung by the heroine, Meg.

The choreography/movement is just brilliant with shipyard workers dancing in ways that fit blue collar men. The set is inventive with metal structures that morph into bridges, fences, or ship-building scaffolding. There are also engaging scenes in the requisite small town pub, the church and the main character’s humble home. You have the sense that this is heavily inspired by the early life of Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, otherwise known as Sting.

The book-writer of musicals rarely gets mentioned so I wanted to give a little love to very successful playwright and screen writer, John Logan, Sting’s collaborator on “The Last Ship.” Logan, a graduate of Northwestern, used his pen for ten years in Chicago theater with such productions as “Never the Sinner,” “Hauptmann” and “Riverview,” a musical melodrama. He has gone on to win six Tony awards,  written movie scripts for movies like “Gladiator,” “The Aviator,” “Skyfall” and “Hugo,” as well as current tv show “Penny Dreadful.”

John, you got the bones right in this current musical. “The Last Ship” successfully explores the roles of parent and child. Do you ask the child to be like you or do you encourage them to find their own path? Will the ignorance of youth eventually transform into a new understanding of parental concerns and fears or calcify into long held hurts and grudges?

How this will do on Broadway is anybody’s guess. Perhaps the Sting connection will provide enough advance ticket sales to keep this ship sailing in New York for a while. The night I saw the show in Chicago, the audience leaped to its feet for a standing ovation at the end and I myself sheepishly wiped away a tear or two. You too might enjoy the musical if you can be a little forgiving of some clunky lyrics and a plot that does not stay consistent in tone. A good evening’s voyage nonetheless.

Bank of America Theater, 18 W. Monroe Street, Chicago, IL 60603

http://broadwayinchicago.com

Runs until July 13, 2014 in Chicago

Comments

  1. Peter Henze says:

    Thank you, Elizabeth. Always appreciate your great writing & music. You have accomplished so much since the Fairmont evenings..,which were such a treat to hear in icy Chicago.

    Best wishes,

    Peter Henze bigbear077@aol.com

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