"The Last Ship," the new musical with a Celtic-style score by Sting, and a plot inspired by the artist's upbringing in a blue-collar shipbuilding town in Northern England, opened on Broadway two months ago to mixed reviews and disappointing box office grosses.
It didn't take long for rumors to surface that Sting might enter the cast in order to drum up business, just as Billie Joe Armstrong did when "American Idiot" was on Broadway.
Sting has temporarily taken over for Jimmy Nail (also an English singer-songwriter) in the supporting role of Jackie White, a foreman who is now out of work along with the rest of the men in town.
The local priest (Fred Applegate), recognizing their emotional and economic rut, urges them to take charge and reclaim their pride by forcefully occupying their old shipyard and building one last, glorious ship.
This dynamic scenario plays second fiddle to a less captivating love triangle between the 30-something Gideon (Michael Esper), who deserted the town 15 years earlier in defiance of his shipbuilder father; his old girlfriend Meg (Rachel Tucker), who just happens to now have a 15-year-old son; and Arthur (Aaron Lazar), Meg's new boyfriend, who works for the scrap metal company that purchased the shipyard.
Sting, sporting a beard, blends in well enough with the rest of the cast, though he lacks Mr. Nail's formidable presence and passion. You get the impression that he is purposely trying to stay in the background, as if to say, "Don't mind me. I'm just here to sell tickets."
The musical's shortcomings as a piece of drama (undeveloped characters, slim plot) and its gloomy atmosphere remain the same, making it hard to believe "The Last Ship" will be able to keep sailing once Sting jumps ship.
Nevertheless, Sting deserves a great deal of credit -- first for bringing a heartfelt, wholly original musical to Broadway, and then for stepping up when called for double duty.
If you go: "The Last Ship" plays an open run at the Neil Simon Theatre. 250 W. 52nd St., thelastship.com. Sting appears in the musical through Jan. 24.