Is there anything Sting can’t do? This winter, the renowned songwriter, musician, and actor will have all of his prodigious talents on display at the Ahmanson Theatre in The Last Ship, the musical he created and stars in, which is based on the story of the town where he grew up.
“I’m repaying a debt, if you like, to the community that raised me, that created me, that gave me the engine of my ambition—first of all, to escape. I didn’t want to work in the shipyard,” said Sting. “In hindsight, I realized I’d been given a gift. I’d been brought up in a very strong community”—Wallsend, on the coast of Northeastern England—“with an identity that was completely wrapped up in building ships, giant ships. The community was very proud of what they did. When that was taken away, the town was destroyed—in every way.”
The Last Ship is set against that backdrop of swift and savage decline—and while it’s a personal story for Sting, it’s also very familiar. “This is something that’s happening all over the West. When industries close down, communities are bereft,” he said. “They don’t know what to do, what are they, how do they identify themselves? So it’s a universal theme and a universal malaise.”
The show doesn’t offer solutions, but it does have a particular point of view. “This is not just limited to my town or limited to America. It’s everywhere,” said Sting. “It’s about human dignity—we’ve lost that sense of purpose, that sense of identity, that sense of community, that bond—that social bond. It’s not them and us. It’s just us, and we have to get back to that.”
I wanted to write a story about the richness and the value of community, the spirit of community.
Another major, universal theme of the show is “the agency of women. Women are very important in this play,” said Sting. “We need more women in power. Men have messed it up, we really have. This is one of the main tropes of the play: it’s women who save the day.”
In order to write this story, “I began to go back in my life to the environment that formed me, made me who I am. I started to revisit the people I’d known in that community, the people who worked in the shipyard, the people who were my neighbors, the people who were my friends,” recalled Sting. “I wanted to write a story about the richness and the value of community, the spirit of community.”
Sting will be playing a key person in that community at the Ahmanson. “He’s called Jackie White. He’s the foreman of the yard. He’s a very conflicted character because he’s loyal to the company that’s employed him since he was 14. He’s also loyal to his men who work in the shipyard and who are being royally shafted by the company. That split of loyalty is what ultimately destroys him,” said Sting. “I had no intention of being in the play myself until someone suggested it, and I’m so glad I did because I’m having the time of my life. I understand this character. His strengths, his weaknesses, his conflict actually coincide with some of mine, so that is where the sparks fly. It’s really a psychological exercise. It’s good therapy.”
Once the curtain rises, Sting is just one member of an ensemble of 18 actors and eight musicians; it’s a big, Broadway musical, after all. “The production value of the show is extraordinary. It’s something you haven’t seen in the theatre before,” said Sting. “We launch a ship at the end of the show, and it just gets people out of their seats and—wow.”