The Tony nominations will be announced on April 28, but I'm declaring my favourite original score of the 2014/15 season on Broadway early: the gorgeous folk-tinged one created by Sting for The Last Ship.
The show itself sank back in January, despite Sting's best efforts to save it by rushing in to star in it himself for a few weeks, but over the weekend Sting revived it once again, performing the score in concert on home territory in Tyneside where it is not only set, but also began its journey to the stage in February 2012 with a workshop at Newcastle's Live Theatre.
The sold out performances were held at the grandest concert space in town, the Sage Gateshead to benefit its 10th birthday appeal. So a show, which is all what Sting called "exile, longing and belonging", had come full circle.
But more than that, it suggested that perhaps the best form for this show may indeed be as a concert staging like this one, with Sting providing a poignant, sincere commentary about where the show came from and its plot. Introducing a song about a son's troubled relationship with his father, for instance, he said, "I have real estate in that department." At another point, he gives a brief geography lesson of Tyneside – "I'm a teacher, after all."
With his soulful rock rasp, and backed by an electrifying international set of musicians – including Newcastle's own fiddle sibling maestros Kathryn and Peter Tickell, drummer Joe Bonadio (who also served duty in the pit band for The Last Ship on Broadway), Swedish born bass player Ira Coleman and melodeon player Julian Sutton, all led by Emmy-winning musical director and keyboard player Rob Mathes – Sting gave a truly blazing account of this gorgeous folk-inflected score was given.
Vocal duties weren't covered by Sting alone: he also had Jimmy Nail – Broadway's original Jackie White, the role that Sting himself took over – on stage, as well as singers Jo Lawry, Charlie Richmond, the quintet of Wilson Brothers, and sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank (who also execute a nifty tap dance).
Back in January, I interviewed Sting for The Stage at his stunning apartment on Central Park West in New York after the news of the show's closing had already been announced, and he told me:
I feel sad that we're closing, but that's showbusiness. I'm pretty sanguine about it, actually, and there's a poetry about it, too. I thought I was writing about a shipyard, but actually it turns out I was writing about the community of the play. There are so many lines [in the show] congruent with the situation we're now in – it's about saving the play as against saving the shipyard.
Last weekend in Gateshead a largely local audience welcomed him back home. A show about exile and homecoming had brought one of the area's most famous exiles back home. In the show, Gideon returns after 15 years at sea; in the case of Sting, he's called New York home for the last 35 years.
He's a global superstar, of course – but he's still testing himself as a writer, performer and an artist. He could afford, in every sense, to rest on his laurels, but The Last Ship was a departure of both form and content. It may have run aground too quickly on Broadway, but as the concert so defiantly proved, the score will endure.
In Sting’s own words, “I'm not in any great hurry. I want this experience to marinate a little bit. The play is constantly evolving still – it doesn't have to be set in stone."
So perhaps a viable theatrical show can still be fashioned around The Last Ship.
(c) The Stage by Mark Shenton