Sting musical ‘The Last Ship’ opens on Broadway to mixed reviews

Rachel Tucker, left, and Michael Esper, in a scene from "The Last Ship" at the Neil Simon Theatre in New York.
Rachel Tucker, left, and Michael Esper, in a scene from “The Last Ship” at the Neil Simon Theatre in New York.
(Sam Rudy Media Relations / Associated Press)

Sting officially opened his musical “The Last Ship” on Sunday at the Neil Simon Theatre in New York.

The pop star not only wrote the show’s songs, which can be found on his 2013 album of the same title, but used his life as a template to tell its quasi-autobiographical story of romance set against tough economic times.

“The Last Ship,” which debuted earlier this year in Chicago, stars actor Michael Esper as Gideon Fletcher, a young man who returns to his working-class town in northeast England. The musical follows two plotlines -- the growing labor unrest among the town’s shipbuilders, and a romantic conflict between Gideon and his former girlfriend.


The musical was written by John Logan and Brian Yorkey and directed by Tony Award-winner Joe Mantello. Last year, Sting held a series of concerts at the Public Theater in New York during which he performed songs from the musical. PBS aired the concert earlier this year as part of its “Great Performances” series.

“The Last Ship” is the Sting’s first Broadway outing as a composer. Other pop stars who have made the crossover to the theater include Elton John, Cyndi Lauper, Bono and the Edge of U2, and Duncan Sheik.

Reviews of “The Last Ship” have so far been mixed.

Charles Isherwood of the New York Times wrote that “it’s hard not to root for this ambitious, earnest musical,” but it has its “share of nagging flaws.” The narrative is torn between a “David versus Goliath story” and a “romantic love triangle.” But Sting’s songs “never feel like pop tunes awkwardly shoehorned into a ready-made narrative. The pungent lyrics spring directly from character and situation.”

The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney described the musical as “a heartfelt, intensely personal project,” but in the end, “it’s also a bit of a yawn.” The book for the musical is “plodding” and gives the protagonist “too little psychological dimension to come alive. It also strands him among generic characters and clichéd situations seen in countless Brit films set in depressed industrial towns blighted by Thatcherism.”

Marilyn Stasio of Variety wrote that “the lyrical language of Sting’s mournful score gives poetic voice to the distressed shipbuilders, but depicting their story as a heroic allegory is regrettably alienating.”

The New York Daily News’ Joe Dziemianowicz raved that Sting “delivers his A-game” and that “the rich and lively score, which includes two songs from earlier solo work, courses with meaning and emotion.” But the two-pronged story “sometimes sinks this enterprise.”


Twitter: @DavidNgLAT