First of all, I should confess that I’m more than a little obsessed with Sting. If I had to pick only one popular artist to listen to for the rest of my life, he would be the only choice for me. So in 2013 when Sting released the album upon which “The Last Ship” was based, I fell instantly in love with the title song. My wife will tell you I’ve played it hundreds – maybe thousands – of times since then (to her mild dismay – she is not the avid Sting fan I am). In 2014 when I heard the show was in the works, I was beyond excited and waited with great anticipation for the musical to open. In the meantime, I read every interview with Himself I could find about the album and the show.
I was stunned (and alarmed) to learn that my idol had spent nearly a decade unable to bring himself to write new music.
“I . . . lost my huge, burning desire to just put things on the page,” Sting said. He was not eager for “the navel-gazing and confessionals and self-obsession that goes on with songwriters.”
He kept busy, for sure. He collaborated. He toured like crazy. He recorded albums like “Symphonicities,” “On a Winter’s Night,” and “Songs from the Labyrinth,” all which I loved and joyfully overplayed. (Side note: you should check them out!) But he hadn’t actually written music in 8 years. And that was starting to worry him.
“I began to get a little concerned at that point,” he recalled. “I said: ‘What are people going to say now? You’re washed up.’ ”
Sting was blocked. He tried everything, to no avail. And then he decided a return to his roots might help and scheduled his first trip home in decades. As soon as he made the reservations, he told interviewers he could feel something loosening up inside him. He said it felt like the songs poured out of him, almost as if he were transcribing them rather than writing them.
Sting grew up in Wallsend on Tyneside, a tiny shipbuilding town on the North East coast of England. His family expected him to take up the shipbuilder trade, but it was a brutal industry in a brutal town and he couldn’t get out of there fast enough. He never looked back until the fateful trip in 2012 that gave him back his songwriter’s voice.
But now, the show that was the result of that epic return to writing has failed. Is he crushed? Discouraged? Although his score was universally praised by the critics, I worry that since he put so much of himself in the show, its closing might again shake his confidence.
And why did it fail? I confess that when we were deciding what to see in October, after watching the videos on Youtube and reading the reviews, I opted to see something else instead. (F.Y.I., we saw “Sideshow,” which also closed last week.) Last Ship’s book was troubled, and while everyone loved Sting’s sweeping score, the show had problems. I thought I’d wait a bit and see if they worked out the kinks. Little did I know it would close after only four months. Of course, had My Guy been in it, I would have gone for sure, but by the time it was announced that he was going to take over one of the roles for a month, I was Christmas poor, so I again didn’t buy a ticket. If I, a die-hard fan, didn’t want to spend the money, who would? But maybe all is not lost:
“. . . in 1935, “Porgy and Bess” opened on Broadway for the first time in the same month and theater as “The Last Ship,” and struggled and closed on Jan. 25, 1936. “ ‘Porgy and Bess’ was not a hit the first time out, but it’s 80 years later and ‘Porgy and Bess’ as an American classic. I don’t know what the future portends, but I believe ‘The Last Ship’ will go on to have a long life elsewhere.” –The New York Times, interview with “The Last Ship” producer Jeffrey Seller
In honor of the passing of this production, and because this song has taken up permanent residence in my heart, here is my darling Sting singing “The Last Ship.” The whole concert is there, but the song I particularly want you to hear is the first one.
Of course, I couldn’t post this without including wee Iain Armitage’s review. (Spoiler alert: he loved it!)