One of the most anticipated musicals of the year has sailed into the Windy City.
"The Last Ship," Grammy-winning musician Sting's latest monumental creative project, began previews June 10 and officially opened Wednesday at the Bank of America Theatre in Chicago. The Windy City debut is a World Premiere pre-Broadway engagement. Presented by Broadway in Chicago, "The Last Ship" continues through July 13.
The production is scheduled to begin previews in New York on Sept. 29 at the Neil Simon Theatre. But local theater fans have the opportunity to get a rare first look at Sting's new work, which is set in the shipbuilding community of Wallsend, the town where the hitmaking musician grew up.
With "The Last Ship," Sting breaks an eight-year songwriting block, and delivers his first musical production. The work, with autobiographical leanings, is directed by Joe Mantello with music and lyrics by Sting and book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey. Steven Hoggett is the choreographer.
"I decided it was time in my life to honor the community I came from," Sting said in press materials for the show. He added his earliest memories were of majestic ships at the end of the street where he lived.
The storyline of "The Last Ship" revolves around the closeness of the community, the hardworking people who reside there, the relationships between family and friends of the area and the changing face of the shipbuilding business as time goes on and how the work industry is about to collapse. (Locals will recognize the atmosphere to be similar to that of the working class community during the faltering of the steel mill industry around Northwest Indiana and Chicago's Southeast Side).
"It's a universal story about community, family, fathers and sons - a symbol of hope," Sting said.
Starring as main characters Gideon Fletcher and Meg Dawson are Michael Esper of "American Idiot" fame and Irish actress Rachel Tucker, who starred as Elphaba in "Wicked" on the West End.
"This is a dream job. It's pretty incredible," said Rachel Tucker, about being cast in the world premiere production. "On top of it, we get to work with Sting," she added.
Though Sting is not in the show, the actors said he's been very involved in the rehearsal process and is hands-on with the production.
Tucker and Esper said they'd always admired Sting's work as a musician including his solo compositions and his music with The Police.
According to Esper, the fact that "The Last Ship" is an "original" piece and that he has the opportunity to work on something so rare is extremely rewarding.
Esper and Tucker said the production is filled with much passion and they strive to do justice to Sting's memory of his childhood and the hardworking community that influenced him.
"For the working class, (the change in the industry) was a huge hardship and we're very much trying to get that across," Tucker said. "The women were the backbone of the community," she added.
"For me, the show is very much about love and family," Tucker said.
"I feel honored to be performing Sting's music," Esper stressed, adding it's a gorgeous and intimate score. About being cast alongside Tucker, Esper said "I'm so lucky to be working with her."
Both actors said opening the show in Chicago is perfect because it's a strong theater town with audiences that are interested and receptive.
FYI: "The Last Ship" continues through July 13 at Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St., Chicago. Tickets range from $35 to $95. Call (800) 775-2000 or visit BroadwayInChicago.com.