When word first arrived that a Sting musical was headed to Broadway, many probably assumed it would be a jukebox show comprised up of the English singer-songwriter’s pop hits, along the lines of “Mamma Mia!” or “Jersey Boys.”
In a refreshing change of protocol, Sting has written a new score in a folk Celtic style, full of sweeping choral and orchestral arrangements and unabashed, open-hearted sentiment.
The story is original too, paying tribute to Sting’s childhood home of Wallsend in Northern England, in which the prodigal son of a shipbuilder returns after a 15-year absence. He finds that the shipyard has closed down and that his ex-girlfriend just happens to have a 15-year-old son.
The town’s macho residents are urged by their dying priest to take charge by forcefully occupying over their old shipyard and building one last, glorious ship.
It’s hard not to imagine someone pitching this musical to investors as “Billy Elliot” meets “Carousel.”
The originality and sincerity of the enterprise are certainly worthy of applause. Joe Mantello’s production manages to be thoroughly atmospheric without turning into a spectacle. (Spoiler alert: We only see a small portion of the ship.)
All that being said, “The Last Ship” never ignites or comes together as one would hope. The characters are undeveloped, moving around a slight, tearjerker plot. Its gloomy and gritty qualities also get tiresome.
The standout of the cast is Broadway veteran Fred Applegate, who imbues the local priest with a wicked sense of humor and fighting spirit. The rest of the performances have a fervent but generic flavor.
Since a concept album has already been released, and PBS aired a concert version that can still be watched online, you can easily sample the score and determine for yourself whether “The Last Ship” is a vessel you’d like to ride.
If you go: “The Last Ship” plays an open run at the Neil Simon Theatre. 250 W. 52nd St., thelastship.com.