Review: ‘The Last Ship’ offers strong music with familiar sound

"The Last Ship" plays through Oct. 1 at Pioneer Theatre. Photo: Courtesy

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, Sept. 26, 2016 (Gephardt Daily) — The best thing about “The Last Ship,” a regional premiere at Pioneer Theatre Company, is the music of its creator.

If you like Sting, his sound is all over the musical he composed. There’s not a note that you can’t easily imagine sung by the former Gordon Sumner himself.

The bad thing is that this musical, inspired loosely by Sting’s life, is only a tiny fraction as interesting as the man himself. The writers of the book, John Logan and Brian Yorkey, produced an uneven story that starts out strong, but drags in the second act.

Indecisive characters frustrate the viewer, and the somewhat sullen hero is hard to root for, even after he makes a total change and is suddenly the outgoing leader of townspeople who rejected him just scenes earlier.

The story takes place in a shipping town much like the one where Sting grew up, as the son of a milkman. In “The Last Ship,” the male lead is Gideon, who fled an abusive father and the ship-building life he was born into for bigger dreams in the larger world.

Gideon leaves first love Meg behind, promising to return for her soon.

But Gideon does not come back until his father’s funeral, 15 years later. Searching for the young Meg he remembered, Gideon finds and pursues grownup Meg, 30, who raised a son alone and has bonded with a caring man who never quite lived up to her youthful fantasies.

The last ship theme comes from a secondary story, about shipbuilders who lost their work and their pride when their industry, cutting costs, sought cheaper ships from Asia. The town priest comes up with a plan to put the former ship builders to work, crafting one last ship from materials in the shipyard, to restore the unemployed men’s sense of self-worth.

Will the ship-building plan hold water? Has the ship sailed for Gideon and Meg? And will Gideon feel sunk or buoyed when he finally does the math and figures out just where Tom, Meg’s 15-year-old son, came from?

Those are the questions belabored in a lengthy Act II.

But there’s plenty to enjoy while Gideon struggles get his act together and Meg mulls over her options. Did we mention that Sting’s music is great for fans of his sound?

And the singing voices of Bryant Martin (Gideon) and Meg (Ruthie Stephens) are clear and strong, and an asset to the musical storytelling. James Crichton, as Tom, also has a strong voice, which he blends with Martin’s perfectly in a moody showstopping “Ghost Story,” a song which signals the emotional resolution to come.

The production elements are high, as always. The changing set is made of walls, suspended from above, which change position to reveal the worn look of a popular bar, the steel and grid work of an old factory, and the walls of Gideon’s childhood home.

And its fun to watch the heavy, earth-colored costumes lighten to include a few heavenly blues as hope grows. Gregory Gale is the designer.

Also adding color and warmth are a cast of supporting characters who make the most of their playful, bitter, resigned, confident and cranky dialogue.

There’s a lot to see, hear and enjoy in this musical, and if you can make through the slow stretch in the middle, there’s a happy ending to be had.

For ticket information on “The Last Ship,” which continues through Oct. 1, click here.


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