Fans of the musician Sting and theatergoers alike are anticipating Pioneer Theatre Company’s regional premiere of “The Last Ship,” the rock star’s semi-autobiographical musical that centers on a shipbuilding town and a prodigal son’s return. The musical will run Sept. 16 to Oct. 1.
"It's a play about work, the importance of work, the pride of work and the importance of community and family,” Sting told Park City’s KCPW in an interview, which was shared in a news release from Pioneer Theatre Company. “Those issues are universal, and I think the people of Salt Lake City will get them, will appreciate them and recognize in their own community and in their own work something that resonates with them too."
The Tony-nominated musical (for best original score and best orchestration), which had a short run on Broadway in 2014-15, tells the story of Gideon Fletcher, a young man who returns to his hometown after the death of his father to reclaim his past (including his former love, Meg) and understand how the struggling community he once sought to escape shaped the person he has become.
Gordon Sumner, more commonly known by his stage name, Sting, drew on his own experience growing up near the shipyards in Wallsend, England, where he passed each day by the leagues of men walking to and from the yards as he helped his father deliver milk. It was around this same time that he discovered a cast-off Spanish guitar and began teaching himself to play.
He left the industrial, blue-collar town, working odd jobs, eventually attending Northumbria University and later becoming a teacher at St. Paul's First School in Cramlington. On weekends, he played in a jazz band. He finally traded Newcastle for London, playing with various groups before forming the legendary band The Police and later venturing on a successful solo career.
The musician has garnered 16 Grammys, sold more than 100 million records and written iconic songs such as “Message in a Bottle,” "Roxanne" and “Englishman in New York.”
"I didn't want to work in the shipyards myself - it was a terrifying place," Sting said in the KCPW interview when he was asked about the musical’s creation. "I figured I had to escape. Music became my avenue of escape. But I always recognized how important that environment was to who I am and why I became who I became. So I wanted to go back and really pay tribute to the community I came from."
The score includes songs from Sting’s concept album of the same name released just a year before the musical’s debut. It also draws on new compositions and four hits from previous albums, including “All This Time” and “Island of Souls” released in 1991, “When We Dance” (1994) and Ghost Story” (1999).
Unlike jukebox musicals that draw from a rock star’s greatest hits to build a story around, Sting’s score was created around a very sentimental storyline.
“At its heart, it’s a good musical with all the elements,” said Karen Azenberg, Pioneer Theatre Company's artistic director. She said she was mesmerized when she saw the show in New York.
“I saw things in it that I thought would resonate with Utahns - maybe more than elsewhere," she said. "Generational heritage and family offer huge connections here, and I’ve learned that some shows have a stronger life regionally than on Broadway.”
Working with Sting was a highlight for her, she said.
“It’s been a lovely experience. He’s been generous in every way and is the nicest person you’ll ever meet,” she said. “He happens to be extremely talented, and he works very hard. With all his success, for him, it’s about the work. That is a theme in this show, and it comes straight from its author.”
She said that Sting's sound is apparent "right from the top of the show."
“He is very aware of the storytelling that has to take place in this particular genre - so the music evokes that,” said Azenberg, about the artist’s style fused with Celtic, seafaring ditties and muscular ballads sung by work-worn shipbuilders.
Azenberg said of the songs in the musical, one of her favorites is "Ghost Story."
“It’s haunting and beautiful and ‘Sting’ to the core, and yet it belongs to this musical, and you love it for that,” she said.
To Azenberg, “The Last Ship” is an “undiscovered gem” about a character who seizes the opportunity to "go back and make amends and right the wrongs,” she said. She hopes Utah audiences will find it as extraordinary as she does.
Content advisory: The show contains some strong language.
If you go
What: Pioneer Theatre Company's "The Last Ship" by Pioneer Theatre Company
When: Sept. 16-Oct. 1; 7 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday matinees
Where: Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. 1400 East, Salt Lake City
How much: $40-$62; prices increase $5 on the day of the show.
(c) Deseret News by Heather Hayes