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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Neil Simon


  Jimmy Nail and company/ Ph: Joan Marcus

How many award winners does it take to screw … up a musical? The answer to that riddle is sadly answered by The Last Ship, the new tuner at the Neil Simon Theatre that charts a surprisingly boring course despite the considerable talents of director Joe Mantello, co-book writers John Logan and Brian Yorkey, and, saddest to admit, Sting – on whose life the show is loosely based.

Okay, let’s not put too much blame on Sting. His score is not only the show’s strongest selling point, but its raison d’étre. To his credit, the 16-time Grammy Award winner has learned the craft of the Broadway tunesmith. He’s created a handful of fine character songs, such as Arthur’s “What Say You, Meg?” (beautifully rendered by Aaron Lazar) and Gideon and Tom’s punchy “The Night the Pugilist Learned How to Dance.” The rousing “We’ve Got Now’t Else” and “Show Some Respect” (led by the indefatigable Sally Ann Triplet) will wake you even if you’re snoring. And there’s always been little doubt that Sting can write the loveliest, almost gossamer-like ballad, as evidenced onstage by “When We Dance” (which wasn’t written for the show) and “It’s Not the Same Moon.”

However, one can blame Sting a little for not agreeing to be a cast member. True, at 63 he’s far too old to play the show’s so-called hero, Gideon Fletcher (a remarkably effective Michael Esper), an almost perpetually angry 30-something man who has returned to the small English shipbuilding town he abandoned 15 years ago. However, Sting could easily have played Jackie White (portrayed by the singer’s longtime pal Jimmy Nail), the veteran shipbuilder who helps galvanize the town, along with the twinkly Irish priest Father James O’Brien (an irresistible Fred Applegate), after the corporation Arthur works for has shut down the local shipyard. Now, that would have helped plug at least one leak in this boat.

The biggest problem is the show’s story. Having sailed the world with little result, Gideon has come back home after he learns about the death of his nasty father (Jamie Jackson) – and to reunite with childhood sweetheart Meg (the appealing Rachel Tucker), now a barmaid with a longtime lover, and, gasp, a 15-year-old son Tom (Collin Kelly-Sordelet in a winning Broadway debut). Now that he’s back, will Gideon finally give into his late father’s wishes and work on the ship? Will Gideon and Tom forge a father-son relationship? Will Meg choose Gideon over Arthur? Will the Last Ship finally sail (and to where)? Do we need to tune in tomorrow?

Indeed, The Last Ship has as many questions as an episode of Days of Our Lives, but they turn out to be far less interesting (and far more predictable) ones than any daytime writer can dream up. Worse yet, Yorkey and Logan never give these characters much dimension – or memorable dialogue. Perhaps if Tom had been the show’s real protagonist – especially since his character ultimately has the most well-defined arc – the musical might have had stronger sea legs.

Perhaps Yorkey and Logan expected Mantello to do more of the heavy lifting. While he has been one of Broadway’s strongest directors, especially in small-scale dramas, Mantello’s work here is surprisingly bland, relying way too often on the same blocking patterns. That same sense of ennui creeps into Steven Hoggett’s now-signature everyman choreography, and David Zinn’s stark, grayish set and workaday costumes, while apropos of the show’s bleak setting, give audiences little visual pleasure.

Of course, there’s still that lovely score to keep you occupied. Yet none of these songs really seeps into your soul the way Sting’s best songs often do. Instead, they basically waft by like an ocean breeze. And so, The Last Ship too often flounders in a sea of good intentions.


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