Sting musical The Last Ship hits rocky waters

THE LAST SHIP by Sting, Lorne Campbell, John Logan and Brian Yorkey (Mirvish). At the Princess of Wales Theatre (300.

THE LAST SHIP by Sting, Lorne Campbell, John Logan and Brian Yorkey (Mirvish). At the Princess of Wales Theatre (300 King West). Runs to March 24. $35-$250. 416-872-1212. See listing. Rating: NN

The Last Ship has sailed, and its a rocky voyage.

Stings pet project, an ambitious musical set against Britains deindustrialization in the 1980s, is an awkward mixture of earnest storytelling, uneven songs and flat-out pretension.

Thats too bad, because after a brief, unsuccessful Broadway run in 2014, the show was retooled for a UK tour last year, where it was better received.

Perhaps the material meant more on British soil, where the fallout from the collapse of the mining, steel and shipbuilding industries can still be felt. No doubt the heavy accents and dialect would be better understood there, too. (Be sure to read the glossary in the program.)

But those are the least of the shows problems.

In the North East town of Wallsend, England in 1986 where the singer/songwriter himself grew up hundreds of shipyard workers have been informed by management that the boat theyre almost finished constructing is going to be junked for scrap metal and their numbers severely cut.

What to do? Go on strike? Foreman Jackie (Sting) and his wife Peggy (Jackie Morrison) are dealing with other issues, including Jackies declining health. And 17 years after he left town to join the navy, Gideon (Oliver Savile) returns home to discover hes the father of a young woman, Ellen (Sophie Reid), by his estranged former girlfriend Meg (Frances McNamee).

Thats a lot to fit into a musical, and Sting doesnt comes up with a consistent sound to tie the elements together. Some of the choral numbers feature haunting old world harmonies, and the melancholy title waltz has a tidal pull, but they clash with some other songs that, bizarrely, suggest tango, French cabaret and Kurt Weill.

Lorne Campbells book and direction, too, are all over the map. Is there a narrator or isnt there? Is the island of lost souls referenced early on some sort of purgatory?

Despite the vivid projection designs by 59 Productions the shows standout element theres little sense of place in the book or lyrics.

Speaking of lyrics, Sting relies on either fake mysticism (hovering angels, twinkling stars) or sentimentality (look for a lead-footed dancing motif) that never feel earned.

The performers themselves are decent enough. Savile, McNamee and Reid are passionate, engaged actors, even if their storyline never seems to connect with the shipyard one.

Sting and Morrison add warmth to their middle-aged couple, and Joe Caffrey, Marc Akinfolarin and Kevin Wathen breathe solid life into their contrasting blokes.

But good acting, vivid screen projections and a couple of passable songs arent enough to keep this show afloat.

Brand Voices

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