“The Last Ship” at the Neil Simon Theatre (Closed January 24, 2015)

December 17, 2014 | Broadway | Tags:
Music and Lyrics by Sting
Book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey
Directed by Joe Mantello
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

[Sting has assumed the role of Jackie White played by Jimmy Nail for the December 7 performance attended by Theatre Reviews Limited. Mr. Nail will continue in the role at the conclusion of Sting’s run on January 24, 2015.]

Everything is just right about “The Last Ship” currently running at the Neil Simon Theatre. With music and lyrics by Sting and a cohesive and engaging book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey, this new musical does not disappoint. Indeed, it is a powerful exploration of the dynamics of love and loss and hope and destiny. The new musical is rich with tropes, specifically the extended metaphor of the ship/boat and the river which figure prominently in American literature (“Moby Dick,” “Song of Myself,” “Tom Sawyer” to name a few) and it is appropriate to use that metaphor here and urge readers not to miss the boat and be sure to see “The Last Ship” for a journey that is heartfelt and restorative of hope and spirit.

Threatened by the closure of their shipyard and becoming salvage men working in a scrap yard, the ship builders in Wallsend, Englsnd – inspired by Father O’Brien (played with irascible piety by Fred Applegate) – choose to build and launch their final ship christened with the priest’s name as a testimony to their commitment to their craft, their honor, and their heritage. This story fits neatly and understandably into the framework of Gideon Fletcher’s fifteen year odyssey of self-discovery which leads him from his father Joe and girlfriend Meg out onto the sea of self-discovery and back to his home and his opportunity to mend broken hearts and restore dreams fractured by distance and doubt.

Directed with exquisite facility by Joe Mantello, the principal cast and the supporting cast deliver powerfully authentic performances of the rich and well-rounded characters developed by John Logan and Brian Yorkey. It is impossible not to connect deeply with each character and her or his believable conflicts. Young Gideon (played to late adolescent perfection by Collin Kelly Sordelet) needs to extract himself from the expectations of his father (played with acerbic charm by Jamie Jackson) and the passionate hopes of his girlfriend Meg (played by Dawn Cantwell). Returning after fifteen years, the adult Gideon (played with an exacting conflicted spirit by Michael Esper) longs to reconnect with Meg Dawson (played with just the right indecisiveness by Rachel Tucker) and his son Tom Dawson (brilliantly played by Collin Kelly Sordelet with a character skillfully differentiated from his role as the young Gideon).

Like his biblical namesake, Gideon’s march around the shipyard and the neighborhood bar bring the walls of disappointment, denial, and denigration tumbling down. Meg chooses to stay with Arthur Millburn (played with delicious jealousy by Aaron Lazar) who has helped raise Tom and wants to marry Meg. The men of Wallsend succeed in building their last ship and Gideon manages to reconcile with his father and son and have the chance to bond with his son on the ship’s maiden voyage.

Sting’s songs are charged with emotion, longing, love, and redemption and are among the best on Broadway in the last decade. The title song “The Last Ship,” “Island of Souls,” “Hymn,” “It’s Not the Same Moon,” and “Ghost Story” are among the show’s stand out musical numbers. The choreography is energetic and allows each actor the opportunity to add personality to the well-crafted steps designed by Steven Hoggett. David Zinn’s set design is awe inspiring and filled with intricacy and surprise. There is every reason to see “The Last Ship” on Broadway – the sooner the better.