Having gone through a few revisions since it debuted on Broadway in 2014, The Last Ship, currently playing at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto, now features Sting, who also wrote the music and lyrics, in the role of shipyard foreman Jackie White.
Based on Sting’s album of the same name released in 2013 with a book and direction by Lorne Campbell, The Last Ship pays tribute to Sting’s shipbuilding hometown of Wallsend in North East England. Not wanting to become a shipbuilder himself, Sting left at 18 to pursue a career in music.
In The Last Ship, a young man named Gideon leaves his sweetheart, Meg, behind when he leaves Wallsend to become a sailor. We’re also introduced to the plight of the workers when the shipyard is in danger of closing down, leaving 2,000 locals without jobs.
The story is reminiscent of the upcoming shutdown by GM in Oshawa, with thousands of people facing unemployment. Sting and his cast traveled to Oshawa to perform for the GM workers last week in a show of support.
The musical opens with the full cast wandering onto the stage, and begins when Sting joins them. The first two numbers by the entire cast offer a glimpse of the strife the shipyard workers are going through in the town of Wallsend.
The music, as well as the ensemble cast and the small-town setting, are reminiscent of the Canadian musical Come From Away, although The Last Ship offers a bigger variety of songs, some with a Celtic/folk feel and others with a bigger rock/Broadway sound.
All in all, the music is fantastic and the cast is incredible. Each of the performers has a strong singing voice and a great stage presence. Jackie Morrison, who plays Peggy White, especially has strong vocals that sent shivers down my spine.
That’s not to say the other performers weren’t equally wonderful. Sophie Reed as Ellen Dawson, Orla Gormley as Mrs. Dees and Frances McNamee as Meg Dawson were also impressive with their solos.
I also enjoyed the character Adrian Sanderson (played by Marc Akinfolarin), who quoted poetry to his comrades even though they never knew what he was “going on about.”
My only problem was that the production uses heavy North East English accents, which are difficult to understand at first. One female character with a more recognizable upper-class British accent helped the scene she was in make sense, while Orla Gormley, who spoke in her native Irish accent, was also easily understandable. But it was a struggle to realize what the rest of the cast, especially at the beginning, were saying/singing. However, that was the only drawback and once my ear fine-tuned to the accents, I began to understand the story.
I especially loved the stage setup. Using only steel girders and staircases as well as an overhead walkway, the set was minimal, with just a few wooden boxes, but felt so much more elaborate, thanks to the use of scrims and projections that made houses and other settings appear instantly. There was even video that gave the audience the sense of being under the stars or below the bow of a massive ship as clouds floated by.
Sting performs several of the songs and has a featured role, but this is an ensemble show, so although at first all eyes are on him, as the show progresses, the audience gets more and more involved in the story and the other characters.
Following the closing number, the audience immediately got to their feet to give the entire cast a well-deserved standing ovation at last night’s performance. The cast exuded energy, giving everything they had to the story they were telling and in the end, despite the accents, the production was highly entertaining.
The Last Ship is currently onstage at the Princess of Wales Theatre and is scheduled to run through to March 29, 2019. Sting performs at all shows. Click here for more information and to buy tickets. ~Alexandra Heilbron
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