Thursday, December 18, 2014


Pop and rock musicians don't have the best track record of writing truly effective musical theatre scores. Many have tried, with varying degrees of success. Even celebrated scores, like Duncan Sheik's pop score for Spring Awakening, earn their praise just from being great music while, in the context of the show itself, those songs stop the narrative action dead in its tracks. The crossover into musical theatre isn't as simple as a lot of these musicians seem to believe.

But, I dare say, Sting of all people might be an exception. It's not entirely propulsive music, but it gets far more right than any of its predecessors. And besides that, it's just a great score.

The Last Ship is so clearly a labour of love. Inspired by Sting's upbringing with exposure to the shipyards and ship builders, the music sounds like work that only Sting could have written. Don't go in expecting high energy rock anthems and danceable pop tunes... this music is brooding, melancholy, heartfelt, and poignant. With Celtic-flavoured Irish folk songs, stirring pop ballads, and rousing foot-stomping anthems, Sting has crafted a colourful and achingly poetic score that is character true, that advances the story, that sounds like it has a proper place in a musical. It rides a fine line, but it rides that line with ample balance and assuredness. And through it blazes a passionate fomenting heart.

Michael Esper and Rachel Tucker are stand out vocalists as Gideon and Meg who are also gifted with some of the score's best songs. When We Dance (a recycled Sting song that remarkably works) grapples with hope, and the achy It's Not the Same Moon oozes with a poetic lovelorn and love-worn existence. Jimmy Nail as Jackie White sounds eerily like Sting himself and does rousing work on the energetic We Got Now't Else and the addictive Underground River. Other standouts include the show's dramatic and compelling opener Island of Souls, and All This Time, one of the few upbeat songs in the score. And one of the show's final songs, Ghost Story, lives up to its title with its haunting melody. With the aforementioned songs as well as much of the remaining score, Sting reminds us that he is not only a strong melodist, but a gorgeously poetic wordsmith when it comes to lyrics.

The Last Ship is a welcomed retreat from the usual musical theatre fare, and it's always admirable to see a strong, and totally original musical find its way to Broadway. The Last Ship may not be commercial, but that's part of what makes it so special.

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