Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Last Ship ***

The best feature of this new musical now in previews at the Neil Simon Theatre is the appealing score by Sting. The music is lively, varied, and well-performed by a vocally gifted cast. Unfortunately, muddy amplification and occasional diction problems made it difficult to decipher some of the lyrics. Choreographer Steven Hoggett, whose work added so much to “Once” and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” does a fine job again here. The set and costumes by David Zinn are unexceptional. Director Joe Mantello keeps things moving briskly. The show’s weak link, in my opinion, is the book by John Logan (“Red”) and Brian Yorkey (“Next to Normal”), which suffers from implausibility and sentimentality. The main character, Gideon Fletcher (Michael Esper of "Red Vienna"), is the son of an abusive shipbuilder who flees the dying town as a teenager, leaving behind his girlfriend Meg Dawson (Rachel Tucker), vowing to return for her. Fifteen years later, he finally does return, but only because he has been summoned by the earthy but wise Irish priest Father O’Brien (Fred Applegate). Meg has a new man in her life, Arthur Millburn (Aaron Lazar), who was smart enough to leave shipbuilding before it collapsed. Gideon’s return causes her much turmoil.  There’s also young Tom (Collin Kelly-Sordelet), whose relationship to the other characters will not be revealed here. Jimmy Nail and Sally Ann Triplett are strong as foreman Jackie White and his wife Peggy. After the shipyard has been closed and about to be turned into a salvage operation, the shipbuilders plan a last hurrah with the aid of Father O’Brien. The character of Gideon is not very sympathetic, which wouldn’t matter if he were more interestingly flawed and the role had more coherence. As it stands, I did not feel greatly involved in his fate. If you go to enjoy Sting’s music without worrying too much about the book, you’ll have a pleasant evening. Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes including intermission.

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