THE EVENING STANDARDSeptember 01, 1989
The following article by Michael Owens appeared in a September 1989 issue of the The Evening Standard newspaper...
Sting and the President's Men.
In his frock coat, wing collar and spats, he looks a bit of an Edwardian Jack the Lad - a handsome, smiling presence with blue-eyes steel underneath. Then, with a swish of his sword-stick, he is into his first song. This is Sting, the millionaire rock star known for his support of good causes, embarking on a new career possibly more dangerous than any exploit into the Brazilian rainforests.
He is preparing his musical theatre debut playing Macheath in the Brécht-Weill musical 'The Threepenny Opera' and heading for Broadway, a jungle where reputation counts for nothing.
And although he has had a rough ride so far he is still smiling. "I didn't take this one because it would be easy. It's not, it's hard. But win or lose, I'm enjoying it."
Sting, a Newcastle lad who does not like to be reminded he was born Gordon Sumner, is in the second week of the show's out-of town run in Washington and John Dexter's production is exactly where it should be at this stage and is still a work in progress. The singer has assembled all the components of a performance but needs to relax into it. He is singing, probably for the first time, un-miked the effort of projection shows, but his charismatic stage presence enhances the playboy villainy of the role and there is an unsuspected humour in his performance.
Just to prove he is acting he has taken a suite in Washington's best hotel under the name of Edmund Kean. He has submitted himself to the sharp tongue of the forthright Mr Dexter - "I just tell him to stop being a silly bugger, stand still and get on with it' - and has been trashed by the Washington critics.
"If we'd got rave reviews at this stage it would have been dangerous. John was pleased as Punch when we got bad notices. It showed us how much work we still have to do."
Despite working a 14-hour day on rehearsal and performance, he was relaxed when we met mid-morning as his open-window policy flooded the room with steamy humidity. "Good for the throat."
The rock star, who has a healthy track record of film acting, was persuaded towards his stage debut by his actress wife Trudie Styler. He recorded 'Mack the Knife' for an album which was heard by film producer Jerome Hellman ('Midnight Cowboy', 'Mosquito Coast') and the two combined to launch their first attack on Broadway. Their first choice for director was John Dexter with his combined experience of opera and modern theatre, but also known for a verbal bluntness bordering on thuggery.
"He does bring a tension to rehearsal," Sting says, "but I think that is essential. He can be acerbic and you have to work really hard to get a compliment out of him but he has a wonderful reservoir of theatrical knowledge which is helping all of us."
The cast is made up of proven young Broadway talent plus Britain's own Georgia Brown as Mrs Peachum and has appointed their star as the show's Equity representative. "Possibly the biggest landmark in my career since I was made milk monitor in the fourth form," he says. "But Ethel Merman was right, show people are the salt of the earth. They realise this was basically my idea and they have been very supportive to me. I don't feel like an interloper.
"It's actually much easier to play to 200,000 people at a concert than 2000 in a theatre. The big event concert creates its own energy, in the theatre you have to work to focus the audience. Singing without a PA system is hard when you have to cover two octaves and it's a very demanding score. It is certainly stretching me as a performer. But I find the subject stimulating and I just hope other people do too."
The first night in Washington, which failed to charm the critics, was also attended by Mr and Mrs George Bush plus 40 suited gentlemen wearing earpieces and speaking into their lapels. The third act was held up while the President engaged in a long conversation with the Soviet Ambassador. One cast member said: "We didn't know if we'd get to the end of the show first or a formal end to the Cold War."
"It was a very strange night," says Sting. "The Secret Service wanted to check my sword-stick, presumably in case I was going to assassinate the Prez. But to play this show about social morality in Washington the most conservative and bureaucratic city in the world where so much is going wrong, does have it's appeal. I guess Brecht is laughing up there in heaven."
© The Evening Standard (London)