IT’S A BIG year for Sting. He’s touring with Paul Simon and his first Broadway musical, "The Last Ship," opens Oct. 26 at the Neil Simon Theatre.
But the strongest draw for this “Last Ship” tease on “Great Performances” turns out to be its small scale and confessional tone.
Shot last October at the Public Theater, the concert mirrors the personal touch of the album version of “Ship.” While this will likely bear only a glancing relation to what ends up on Broadway, that just makes it more precious.
The 90-minute concert features cameos from some of the play’s stars (including the ruddy Jimmy Nail), plus a 14-piece band, but it has the inside feel of an author’s note to the reader.
Cover shot of Sting’s “The Last Ship” album.
The show deals smartly and movingly with the dying shipbuilding industry of Sting’s childhood in dreary Wallsend, England. It’s a place he longed to escape, but one he now embraces for its fortitude and fatalism.
Sting inhabits the hard characters easily, and brings them to life with his jaunty and eloquent verse. It’s the best lyric-writing of his career. Yet, in his revealing between-songs patter, Sting says that, as instructed by the show’s director, “Some of my finest couplets (got) tossed in the bin.”
Some live here in “Practical Arrangement.” It boasts the conversational form, and cynical view of romance, of vintage Sondheim. True to its setting, the music stresses Celtic sea chanteys, theatricalized by European waltzes and slicked by pop flourishes that recall vintage Sting.
Besides the high quality of the music, the show charms through the ease and candor of Sting’s performance. You feel like you’re seeing a 62-year-old man integrating his conflicted childhood, coming to terms with something deep.