OFF BEAT

OFFBEAT: Sting's 'Last Ship' sails with treasured tunes, but story needs steering

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2014-06-27T00:00:00Z OFFBEAT: Sting's 'Last Ship' sails with treasured tunes, but story needs steeringBy Philip Potempa philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

It's not often that I'm so enthralled with so many of the songs and the music in a stage musical that I find myself looking about the lobby to see if the soundtrack is available for purchase.

The songs and music in musician Sting's new bound-for-Broadway musical "The Last Ship" are so beautiful, moving and entertainingly arranged, it's easy to predict many, many soundtrack sales.

Chicagoland audiences have the honor of the first Pre-Broadway journey to enjoy this production as a World Premiere while it's "testing out the waters" in the Windy City for just a five-week run at Bank of America Theatre until July 13.

The new musical with music and lyrics by 16-time Grammy Award winner Sting, and book by Tony winner John Logan and Pulitzer Prize-winner Brian Yorkey is directed by Tony winner Joe Mantello and has choreography by Olivier Award winner and Tony nominee Steven Hoggett. When the production sails on to New York, it will begin previews on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre on Sept. 29 prior to opening night Oct. 26.

At Wednesday's press opening, I was entertained and I remain enthusiastic about this new work inspired by Sting's own childhood experiences, with added excitement since this production marks Sting's Broadway debut as a composer.

But I find the story, some of the character development and a couple plot points very hazy, at best.

Set in the English seafaring town of Wallsend (where Sting was born and raised), a community centered around the local shipyards and the ship construction trade, a young man named Gideon Fletcher has hopes for something more. After 15-years of travels, he returns home to confront his past and finds the ship-building business, so central to the way of life for so many, has ceased.

Actor Michael Esper plays Gideon, offering an odd balance between brooding and euphoria as his character tackles relationships and reconciling his past. Rachel Tucker is his barkeep romantic interest from past and present. Both shine in multiple numbers and have talented voices, with some especially fun choreography for Tucker's beer serving song "If You Ever See Me Talking to a Sailor."

Jimmy Nail is fantastic as shipbuilder Jackie White and his big musical numbers, like the title song "The Last Ship" and footstomper "We've Got Now't Else," are legendary moments that linger long after audiences leave the theater. I would like to know more about Nail's character though, along with that of his wife Peg, as played by Sally Ann Triplett, the latter who shines in her own song backed by the company, "Show Some Respect." Fred Applegate has an outstanding voice and stage presence as Father O'Brien, but the character comes off too salty for my taste. Aaron Lazar plays Arthur "the other guy," of the central story's love triangle. But alas, he doesn't have much to say or do and the character's personality and traits are uneven as they relate to the storyline.  Young actor Collin Kelly-Sordelet, who does dual duty as Young Gideon, and later, Meg's son Tom, is terrific. But again, his character never really gets to emerge.

I love the scenic design by David Zinn, who also handles costume design and the lighting by Christopher Akerlind hits every target and tone needed. Steven Hoggett's choreography shines and bewitches. But it is the book by Logan and Yorkey that needs fine-tuning to answer so many questions, ranging from whys to hows of the central plot.

Performances are 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays (with additional 2 p.m. Wednesday performances July 2 and 9), 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 and 7:30 p.m. performances Sundays (except no 7:30 p.m. performances July 6 and 13).

Tickets are from $33-$100 at (800) 775-2000 or BroadwayInChicago.com.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or (219) 852-4327.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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