It's risky business for a rock music legend to make the leap to Broadway as a musical's lyricist and songwriter. Taboo, by Culture Club's Boy George, and Paul Simon's The Capeman, were no smash hits. After months of postponed openings, U2's Bono and The Edge found uneven success with Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark. Although he struck out with Lestat, Elton John found success with The Lion King and Billy Elliot. And Cyndi Lauper hit the jackpot when she won a Tony for Kinky Boots. Now, Sting is taking a stab at the Great White Way with his very personal musical, The Last Ship.
Sting — who has sold almost 100 million records worldwide and won 16 Grammy Awards — is a novice when it comes to creating a musical, but he does have a long-held love of the form. He grew up with the standards (thanks to a musical theatre-loving mother) and he played Macheath in a 1988 Broadway production of The Threepenny Opera. "I was educated musically by my mother's record collection, as well as Elvis Presley and rock ‘n' roll," he explained. "She brought in Rodgers and Hammerstein, West Side Story and My Fair Lady. I really ate those records up as a child. So I've always had a hankering for it."
But decades later, what finally brought Sting full circle and back to musicals, was an eight-year run of "not really wanting to write." After the release of his 2003 album, "Sacred Love," he realized he'd lost the burning desire to put words to music in that confessional, somewhat self-possessed way that is endemic with modern songwriters. Instead he stayed busy with a Police reunion tour and albums inspired by Elizabethan composer John Dowland (2006's "Songs from the Labyrinth") and hymns and carols (2009's "Winter's Night"). The songwriting drought ended four years ago with the idea to create some kind of theatrical piece built around his hometown of Wallsend, England, once a vital shipbuilding center (the shipyard closed in the ‘80s). "Suddenly this thing just flowed, as if the songs were trapped inside me," he recalled. "It was bizarre. I had never written such a large group of songs so quickly. It was just deciding to honor the community I came from that unblocked me."
Set in a close-knit community where life revolves around the local shipyard, The Last Ship launches a pre-Broadway run at the Bank of America Theatre in Chicago this month. In the show, Gideon Fletcher returns after 14 years away to find the shipyard's future in danger and his childhood sweetheart engaged to someone else. It's a story about the importance of community and what it means to come back and find that you are bound together by passion, faith and tradition.
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