The Last Ship Thrives on Being Inherently Relatable

The Last Ship Thrives on Being Inherently Relatable

From the first notes of The Last Ship’s haunting opening number, “Island of Souls,” you know you’re watching a Sting musical. You likely know that when you head to your seat, but when his iconic sound hits you—or, rather, seeps its way into your soul—you settle in and let the driving melodies guide you through the production.


A lot of The Last Ship feels pleasantly familiar; the music, the struggles of the working class, and the turbulent yet fragile relationship between a father and son. But, The Last Ship sails as a less showy production than its popular predecessors, which follow a similar narrative. There aren’t flashy costumes, nor is there show-stopping choreography. Instead, the workers and their women partake in a more stomp the (ship)yard rhythmic celebration of pride and determination while wearing some earth-toned Cosby sweaters or coveralls.


This is a good thing. Perhaps even a great thing.


The Last Ship thrives on being inherently relatable. Lost love, broken families, a community in trouble and the overwhelming power of faith in doing what’s right are things we all have dealt with in one way or another. As an audience member, I might never have had my shipbuilding job threatened, but that didn’t make me care any less about the characters on stage. I wanted them to build that ship. I needed them to build it.


The show itself is a ship, relying on all the raw materials to come together as a functioning vessel to carry its passengers somewhere else. The production design is a sparse but sturdy frame because The Last Ship is more about the people than a place, though that pub is awfully inviting. The orchestra provides support so that the actors are free to hit those spots in the music that take you somewhere but keep you grounded all at the same time. The ensemble is strong under Joe Mantello’s direction, with standout moments from Fred Applegate (the devilishly witty Father O’Brien) and Jimmy Nail (shipyard foreman Jackie White). Applegate knows how to deliver a punch line and Nail’s voice was meant to interpret Sting’s music. But it is Michael Esper as Gideon, the boy-turned-man back from 15 years at sea to face his father’s death and reunite with his lost love, who we cling to when the waters get rough. Gideon is an everyman. He’s made some mistakes and has some regrets, but he’ll be damned if he doesn’t throw himself headfirst into causes he believes in. And that made me believe in him, too.


I love the emotional rollercoaster (or in The Last Ship’s case, sea voyage) of the workingman’s musical. While the romance-based elements are gripping, the father/son dramas (because there are more than one!!) are what end up punching you in the feels. Ballads aren’t a luxury; they’re a necessity. Somehow singing out one’s terrifyingly vulnerable feelings is the only effective means to move the story along, and I willingly fall for it every time. Don’t mind my sniffling; please keep melodically emoting about the familial relationships that might have been.


I was fortunate enough to see/hear Sting sing The Last Ship’s title song at the rehearsal for the 2014 Tony Awards before I knew much about the musical. I thought the tune was catchy and found myself singing, “And the laaaaast shiiiiip saaaaaaails” to myself over and over again. Walking out of the theater after finally seeing the show on stage, I caught myself doing it again. This time I knew what it meant, though, and for that I am forever grateful.


The Last Ship is currently docked at the Neil Simon Theatre on W. 52nd St. Life preservers not required, but if you’re prone to tears (happy or otherwise), pack some tissues.


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