Sunday, October 05, 2014

The Last Ship

On one hand, The Last Ship, music and lyrics by Sting, book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey, has already had a run in Chicago and should be in pretty good shape. On the other hand, it doesn't open for a few more weeks, and the show might still change. So take these comments with a larger grain of salt than usual.
The story is basic. A young Englishman doesn't want to do the difficult and dangerous manual labor--in this case, building ships--done by his father and the other men in his town. So he leaves. He promises his girlfriend he will return or send for her. Many years pass. The ship-building industry moves from Northeast England to Asia. The now-idle men feel angry and ashamed. They decide to become strippers. Oh, wait, wrong show. They decide to build one more ship. Their foul-mouthed priest helps them. 

The book is surprisingly weak, particularly considering the track records of its writers. There is not a single surprise in the entire plot, not a moment that couldn't have been written by a reasonably talented playwriting student. That the show relies on cliches would be less of an issue if Logan and Yorkey justified them for these people in these circumstances. But they don't. Also, the lead character is thoroughly unlikable, and many characters are insufficiently introduced. When Peggy White, nicely played by Sally Ann Triplett, has a solo, the first response is, "Who is this person?" The second is, "Why should I care?"

"Why should I care?" is the question that haunts The Last Ship. With the characters so thinly sketched and the plot so predictable, the show comes across as a thematic concert rather than a full musical. However, it does succeed as a thematic concert. There are many wonderful voices on stage, and the music is beautiful. If you like Sting's work (the music is almost ridiculously Sting-y), you'll enjoy the score.

The cast is mostly effective, and the show is great to look at, with marvelously evocative scenery (David Zinn) and lighting (Christopher Akerlind). But ultimately, there is very little there there. An original cast recording could provide 90% of what's good about The Last Ship at roughly 14% of the cost of an undiscounted ticket.

(row N, extreme audience right, tdf ticket)

No comments: