The North American tour of “The Last Ship” has pulled into The Ahmanson theatre for a 4 week stint, starring its songwriter, Sting. The story is somewhat autobiographical in that it is based on real events that took place during Sting’s childhood in a small, northern shipyard town in England and draws from his 1991 album The Soul Cages.
“The Last Ship” tells the story of a town and a people on the verge of collapse when the owner of the local shipyard announces that the almost completed ship, Utopia, can’t be sold and therefore must be taken apart by half of the shipbuilders, leaving the other half out of jobs and the shipyard closed. Sting plays Jackie White, the shipyard foreman, who attempts to negotiate between the workers and the powers that be while managing his own failing health. Add to the mix a shipbuilder’s son, Gideon Fletcher, a sailor who returns from a seventeen-year absence to find his town in crisis, ghosts of his father and his long lost love who holds a long kept secret.
The show has been tweaked and trimmed since its Broadway run and is better for it; the story is leaner and really builds to a glorious crescendo in the second act. Sting calls it “a play with songs” and I very much agree. To that point, I still feel that some of the all out dance numbers feel out of place. I preferred it when the cast stayed in a very realistic realm of being real, working class folks; when the movement comes authentically out of them like a rousing, foot stomping number in the bar or even at the shipyard. Apart from that, the score is lush and complex offering one more iteration of Sting’s immense talent.
Sting brings his unmistakable, soothing vocals and authenticity to the role of Jackie. It is an understated, poignant performance that anchors the show. He is surrounded by several West End vets including the formidable Jackie Morrison in the pivotal role of Peggy, the foreman’s wife, who is the personification of all the stalwart women of the town. Morrison and Sting beautifully portray the steady and forceful love in a longstanding marriage that has withstood hardships.
Oliver Saville is dashing as Gideon and his voice soars on some of the most touching songs like Dead Man’s Boots and When The Pugilist Learned To Dance. Frances McNamee is just outstanding as Meg, Gideon’s first love, with a spectacular voice that pierces the heart in her gut-wrenching songs If You Ever See Me Talking To A Sailor and It’s Not The Same Moon. McNamee and Saville have palpable chemistry and their song What Say You, Meg is one of the most moving and romantic numbers you can think of.
Occasionally it was difficult to decipher the language due to the thick accents and the story really takes a minute to get going, but once it does, it is a beautiful, inspiring story of ordinary folks standing against insurmountable odds to say they are here and they matter.
“The Last Ship” in performances at the Ahmanson Theatre through February 16, 2020. To purchase tickets, visit CenterTheatreGroup.org, call Audience Services at (213) 972-4400 or visit the Center Theatre Group Box Office (at the Ahmanson Theatre at The Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A. 90012). Ticket prices start at $35.