Review Round-Ups

Sting's The Last Ship sails to Broadway

In a rare transatlantic Review Round-Up, we look at the critics’ reactions to Sting’s new musical as it arrives at the Neil Simon Studio in New York

'Rich in atmosphere' - the cast of The Last Ship
'Rich in atmosphere' – the cast of The Last Ship
© Joan Marcus

David Gordon

All of the qualities of the great shows of Rodgers and Hammerstein are there: sweeping melodies with evocative lyrics, a sensitive book (by John Logan and Brian Yorkey) that proudly owns its overwhelming sentimentality, even a tough-talking but lovable elder figure who sets the course of action on its way… You're not wrong if this plot reminds you of The Full Monty or Kinky Boots but unlike those shows, The Last Ship doesn't traffic in stereotypically comedic working-class characterizations… This is an affectionate, respectful representation of the men who toiled their hard-earned hours away to feed their families, only to have their livelihoods ripped out from under them… With deep-set eyes, [Jimmy] Nail is an imposing, evocative presence as a man who grasps his one last opportunity to do what he loves before it gets lost to the ages… The Last Ship will sail on in your memory long after you leave the theater.

Charles Isherwood

New York Times

Rich in atmosphere – I half expected to see sea gulls reeling in the rafters – and buoyed by a seductive score that ranks among the best composed by a rock or pop figure for Broadway, the musical explores with grit and compassion the lives of the town's disenfranchised citizens, left behind as the industry that gave them their livelihood set sail for foreign lands… In one of the show's prettiest ballads, Meg, played with a tough hide and a sweet soul by the beautiful Ms. [Rachel] Tucker, sings a duet with her younger self in which she confesses she still "counts the boats returning from the sea"… While I haven't closely followed his long career as a rock star, I was impressed that Sting's songs for The Last Ship never feel like pop tunes awkwardly shoehorned into a ready-made narrative… [but] this musical often feels dramatically landlocked – like a ship without a crew.

Marilyn Stasio


Sting lives up to his nickname, "the King of Pain," with The Last Ship… The lyrical language of Sting's mournful score gives poetic voice to the distressed shipbuilders, but depicting their story as a heroic allegory is regrettably alienating… Helmer Joe Mantello has done a masterful job of translating Sting's haunting musical idiom (especially in soulful songs like "The Last Ship" and "Island of Souls") into stark imagery… The centerpiece of David Zinn's set is the metal skeleton of a massive ship, looming over the bewildering trappings of a busy shipyard and overshadowed by projections of a dark and restless sea… The fiercely committed Michael Esper inhabits the brooding persona of Gideon… Although the characters only go skin-deep, there's enough humanity in them to make us fret about realistic concerns like how the ship-building enterprise was funded and why Meg didn't string Gideon up by his heels.

Alexis Soloski

The Last Ship is really two narratives, tied together with some fairly sloppy knots… While they sing, they stamp and twirl in Stephen Hoggett's winning choreography, which fashions dances from everyday actions such as drinking, fighting and praying… It's compelling, catching stuff… If the theatre bar served Newcastle Brown, those in the orchestra seats might be tempted to join them… You could see this as a critique of the narrowness of masculine identity, except the men of the show get to sing songs about life and death and hope and loss, whereas the women only get to sing about men… if the structure is slack, the book indifferent, the love story lopsided, and the gender politics unreconstructed, Sting's folk-inflected songs, with their bright percussion and yearning strings, are a pleasure and they are performed here with vigour and swagger and joy… Underneath all the metaphors and self-consciousness and strange earnestness, there's a seaworthy show.

David Cote
Time Out New York

With The Last Ship, a fervent, rollicking and often glorious new musical scored by Sting and inspired by the town of his youth, the hull is magnificent, the keel has problems… When the muscular ensemble is tearing into Sting's rueful ballads or jaunty barroom reels, you almost forget that the narrative stakes are exceedingly attenuated… It's a nice gesture, a symbolic blow for the working man priced out of his profession, but book writers John Logan and Brian Yorkey don't quite establish what the lads hope to achieve… the evening's real theme is the healing of wounds between fathers and sons – a motif that gains some traction by the second act, even if the plot's emotional and political strands intertwine awkwardly… Sting's rich, lyrically confident score is a genuine revelation: beautiful numbers that hint at influences from Rodgers & Hammerstein… When the men weld sheets of steel while singing these anthems to drink, love, work or the sea, sparks fly everywhere… Despite a book that lists, Sting's scores sails on.