In a media preview held on Thursday at the Princess of Wales Theatre for The Last Ship, Sting is earnest and honest.
“I’m a little nervous, because I got liquefied last night,” he says, before breaking out into song to settle himself.
“Blame Shaggy,” he says later, of his current tourmate, the reggae icon with whom he recently recorded an album.
The former Police frontman has long been at the stage of his career where he can pretty much do whatever he wants, and these two recent projects are perfect examples. The Last Ship, coming to town early next year, is a musical he wrote and created the music for about his hometown of Newcastle, which was devastated after its shipbuilding industry dried up. And then there’s 44/876, that new record with the famous “It Wasn’t Me” singer.
“I like to be out of my comfort zone, so I can learn something,” he says of choosing these seemingly disparate projects at this stage of his career.
During the preview, he explained how he grew in the shadow of these massive ships, and after leaving to becoming a musician, he felt he was in the perfect position to tell the story against that backdrop, suggesting he had a “debt” to the place and a “responsibility” to tell the story. It’s a tale, he says, that has universal themes that speak to any place that has ties to manufacturing.
All that said, in the name of investigative journalism, we suggest to Mr. Sumner that it was his burning desire for EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony winner) status that really drove him toward creating this musical.
“None. None whatsoever,” he says with a hearty laugh. “It’s a crapshoot, that whole thing. The Oscars, and Emmys and that whole blah blah blah.”
We counter that he was nominated for a Tony for original score The Last Ship in 2015, and more recently, he was nominated for an Oscar in 2017 for Best Original Song, for “The Empty Chair,” for the documentary Jim: The James Foley Story.
“I’ve been up for it (Oscar) four times — and lost four times. No, I don’t think about that at all.”
Sting also reveals that he feels he owes Ontario for kicking off his music career in the first place.
“My uncle John emigrated in the ’50s to Toronto. And he couldn’t take his guitar with him, so he left it to me. That was the beginning. I was 7 years old. That was my friend for life, and made my career. Made my life,” he says “So I’m grateful for Ontario for attracting my uncle.”
The Last Ship is clearly a passion project for Sting, and while it did OK on Broadway — particularly when the singer performed in it, as he’ll do in Toronto. (He plays the shipyard foreman because, he admits, “I am too old to play the young lead.”) He thinks the story might resonate even more with Canadians, who he figures are a little closer to the Brits in their sensibilities. He almost recoils when I ask if he’s ever considered creating a jukebox musical of his tunes.
“I’ve avoided that like the plague, because it’s too easy in many ways. This is the most difficult thing to do, an original musical, with original songs and an original story. It is not the easy route at all. Most musicals are based on an existing property, a fairy tale, Disney cartoon or something that people know,” he says. “So I took the most difficult route, but that’s very me.”
He also says he’s ready for the Canadian winter, even as the assembled media try to warn of what is in store here in during the run next year.
“You know, I’ve been hear in February, I know how cold it is. I have boots and socks and a hat,” he says. “I’ll be fine.”
(c) Toronto Star by Raju Mudhar