The launching of the "The Last Ship" in its world premiere and opening night was nothing short of powerful. What I loved most about the story is what I appreciate most about Sting's lyrics; in that it is subtle and sophisticated with layered meanings that draw you in deep.
The story is based in Sting's actual hometown of Wallsend, England where he has described the expectation that generation after generation of boys will follow "in his old man's shoes" into the shipyards. It is a place fueled by pride, with back-breaking work in the only world that most of them have ever known. The impact of this tradition is perfectly depicted in the haunting melody of the song "Dead Man's Boots", reflecting the struggles of love and control felt by fathers and sons.
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The show tells the story of Gideon (Michael Esper), who escaped the ship building village, leaving his father, who he resented, and his first love, Meg (Rachel Tucker), behind. Upon his return, he finds his father has passed, his girlfriend has moved on, and that he has a son with Meg, named Tom (Collin Kelly-Sordelet). He also finds that the fate of the shipyard is in danger and Gideon struggles with guilt for what he left behind. The men in the village, led by Father O'Brien (Fred Applegate), rise together as a community to overcome their challenges bound by passion and faith to preserve the only life they ever knew.
I found that the real heart of the show is delivered through subtext, and that's what captivates the audience. There is universal understanding of family struggles, conflicts and guilt. A "sins of the father" theme recurs where Gideon resents his father for expecting him to follow in his footsteps in the shipyard, and later he is confronted with his own son Tom shouting, "I don't want be anything like you." Tom's struggle and desire to connect with his real father, in the shadow of Arthur (Aaron Lazar), the man who raised him, is complicated by Gideon's realization that he wants a relationship with his son. Lastly there is Meg's struggle between the man she now loves and her first love and the father to her son.
Gideon is confronted and conflicted with the reality that the people who mean the most to him are ironically entrenched and identify themselves with what he spent half his life trying to escape, the shipyard. Some say the show is very masculine in its point of view, however I disagree. I think there is always a need for family approval, but especially in this case between fathers and sons.
The highlight of the evening was, of course, the music, all written by Sting. The score is organic to the story and the place. Sting hired musicians from Northern England to record with him, and this gives the show a perfectly infused and authentic sound.
One standout was, "When We Dance (Does He Love You)" in a gorgeous trio rendition.
The performances are honest, unpretentious and full of heart making this show so compelling. One of the most notable performances of the evening was that of Father O'Brien, the village patriarch played by Fred Applegate, who had undoubtedly the best comic timing and one-liners of the evening. Actor/writer, Jimmy Nail, who is Sting's real-life childhood friend, plays the shipyard foreman with a natural style that is unmatched. Rachel Tucker delivered a show-stopping performance of "If You Ever See Me Talking to a Sailor" which is sure to be a role and song that actresses in years to come will aspire to belt out. One of the most gorgeous ballads of the night was when Arthur proposes to Meg in the form of an ultimatum, "What Say You Meg?"
The best part of the show is how it resolves the conflicts and relationships; it's emotional, and powerful and accented by a gorgeous effect that brought tears to my eyes in the finale.
There is no doubt that if you have spent much time at the ocean, in a pensive state, that it can be a powerful experience and the ocean has a deep undercurrent that draws you in - that's what this show does. The audience leapt to their feet at the curtain call with enthusiasm and support for this passionate and powerful production.
The Last Ship is playing at the Bank of America Theatre until July 13 when it sets sail for Broadway.
Appropriate for ages 13 and up