Monday, November 3, 2014

Broadway Theater Review: The Last Ship

Fred Applegate Jimmy Nail and the cast of The JMLast Ship Photo: Joan Marcus
Great Music by Sting Fails to Turn the Tide for The Last Ship
By Lauren Yarger
Drawing on inspiration from the community where he was born and raised, Sting makes his Broadway debut as a composer of The Last Ship, a look at the lives of folks living in the shadow of the River Tyne and its massive shipyard.

Most of the residents of the close-knit community of Wallsend in northeast England have depended on the shipyard for their existence. All of the men end up there, but young Gideon Fletcher (Collin Kelly-Sordelet) dreams of becoming something different from his abusive father, Joe (Jamie Jackson), who was injured in a shipyard accident, but who now hands him his boots, expecting that his son will follow in his shoes – literally – by supporting them with a job at the yard. Gideon wants a different future so much, though, he is willing to leave behind his love, young Meg Dawson (Dawn Cantwell), to find it and sets sail.

Fast forward 15 years later when Joe dies. Gideon (Michael Esper) returns home to find Meg (Rachel Tucker) engaged to Arthur Milburn (Aaron Lazar) and mother to young Tom (Kelly-Sordelet). Complications ensue when Meg and Gideon find sparks of their romance rekindling.

Meanwhile, Arthur, a former welder, now management shirt, isn’t popular with the shipyard workers like foreman Jackie White (Jimmy Nail) or shop steward Billy Thompson (Craig Bennett) when the Newlands Corporation, the new owner of the shipyard, announces that it will cease shipbuilding, but offers the men jobs in its new salvage operation.

Korea and Japan can build ships far more cheaply, but the men refuse to accept their livelihood – and their existence -- is dead. Spurred on by the local priest, Father O’Brien (Fred Applegate), who can hold his own with the townsfolk when it comes to drinking, smoking or using profanity, the workers unite to build one last ship – and many plan to sail away on it to a new life.

Sting’s music is great. Many tunes are memorable (the refrain of the theme song has been repeating annoyingly in my head for days, which is a good thing when it comes to musicals) and the ballads are lovely. Lazar has a dreamy voice and had me wondering how Meg could resist his proposal in “What Say You, Meg?” I found out how when Tucker and Esper teamed up for the absolutely gorgeous duet “When We Dance.” Look for a Tony Award nomination for score here.

Beyond the music horizon (directed by Rob Mathes who does the orchestrations and arrangements), this musical may have rough seas, however. The book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey is sketchy. We never really believe that these men would build their own ship, despite the fact that the premise apparently reflects real-life incidents “including a recent project in Poland for which a priest commandeered supplies and financial support so a group of laymen could not only have work, but also reclaim their pride and dignity by assembling a ship meant to sail the world” according to press information. It’s also nicely staged by Director Joe Mantello on large, but non-scene-stealing sets designed by David Zinn (who also designs the costumes) and expertly lighted by Christopher Akerlind.

Shawna M. Hamic and Sally Ann Triplett stand out in minor roles that get minimal development.

While Sting creates a tidal wave with the music, his lyrics are simplistically weak and heavy on exposition:
  • “For my name is Jackie White and I'm foreman at the yard, and ya don’t mess with Jackie on this quayside”
  • “My name is Billy Thompson, I'm shop steward for the union and me dream is proletarian revolution”
  • “Well, me name is James O’Brien it’s from Ireland I was sent to be the pastor of this flock and your spiritual guide”

There are more, but I’ll spare you.

I also was disappointed by some flat notes, particularly from Nail and Esper. Granted, the score can be difficult, and I did see a matinee performance, but still, this is Broadway…

Meanwhile, word is that Sting fans haven’t been flooding the box office, so The Last Ship had better start to sail or it just might sink and the actors and crew might find the unemployment line a reality as well as part of the story they are telling. Go seen it soon.

The Last Ship sails at the Neil Simon Theatre, 250 West 52nd St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday and Thursday at 7 pm; Wednesday at 2 and 8 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 3pm. Tickets: $55 to $147;  http://thelastship.com.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Language
-- Lord's name
-- Father O'Brien is a smoking, drinking, cursing kind of priest who offers much of the humor in this piece. He kind of skims over scripture during a service.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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