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Sting previews "The Last Ship" with intimate event at Detroit Opera House

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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"The Last Ship" isn't sailing into Detroit until next April.

But Sting, who conceived and composed the music for the Tony Award-nominated musical and appears in it as shipyard foreman Jackie White, came to town on Monday, Sept. 9, to make waves for the production.

An invitation-only crowd of about 150 Broadway in Detroit and Michigan Opera Theatre subscribers, sponsors, group purchasers and media came to the Detroit Opera House for an intimate session during which the award-winning Rock and Roll Hall of Famer spoke about the production and, accompanied by orchestrator and musical director Rob Mathes, performed six songs from "The Last Ship," including the title track as well as "Shipyard," "Dead Man's Boots," "The Night the Pugilist Learned How To Dance," "If You Ever See Me Talking to a Sailor" and "What Say You, Meg?" Sting introduced each with an explanation about where they fit in the plot and how they, and the "The Last Ship" as a whole, reflect elements of his life growing up in a shipbuilding community that he desperately wanted to flee in order to pursue other, more artistic dreams.

"I want to do as much as I can for the play because I just believe in it," Sting said afterwards. "I think it's my best work as a songwriter, so I want to support it."

It's also, he added, "a very personal story for me," dealing with the closing of the shipyards in his British homeland near Newcastle during the 80s and raising issues he feels "will have a resonance to people who live here (in Detroit) that other places will find difficult, so I'm looking forward very much to coming to this town in particular."

The Detroit run, Aug. 22-26, is one of five U.S. cities where "The Last Ship" will play next year. The musical premiered in Chicago during the summer of 2014 before moving to Broadway that September, closing after a little more than four months. It was subsequently staged in Salt Lake City during the fall of 2016, in Finland during the fall of 2017 and in the U.K. and Ireland during 2018.

"The Last Ship's" U.K. tour and the Toronto production also unveiled a new book by current director Lorne Campbell, which has streamlined the narrative and removed some characters that some felt took some focus away from the socio-political crux of the story and put more emphasis on its human relationships. Nevertheless, Sting said "The Last Ship's" "meta" story remains its commentary about labor, unionism, the value of work and community -- especially appropriate at a time when automakers such as General Motors and Ford are cutting stuff and closing plants.

Sting and the cast even visited a GM plant faced with closure in Oshawa, Ont., last Valentine's Day as "just a gesture of support and solidarity" to workers there.

Sting credited the auto industry will having a key role in the development of a strong music community in Detroit -- where Berry Gordy Jr., after all, used the model of the Ford assembly line in creating and operating Motown Records. "I think the two are linked somehow," explained Sting, who released a new album, "My Songs," earlier this year and will launch a Las Vegas residency at Caesars Palace next May.

explained. "I think when a city has the self-esteem of producing an industry, it gives the people the sense of, 'Oh, we can make music as well...we can do this.' I think the confidence that music from this town, extraordinary rock 'n' roll and Motown -- was derived from that.

"When that's taken away," he adds, "when the industry is robbed from you...people's self-esteem is lower. People's sense of dignity, people sense of identity, is excised from them. That's really important. It doesn't value community -- it's just about the bottom line. That's untenable in the long term. I think people are beginning to realize, slowly, that we need to look after communities and value them."

Tickets for the Detroit run of "The Last Ship" go on sale Nov. 29. Information and updates will be available at broadwayindetroit.com and thelastshipmusical.co.uk.

Web Site: www.broadwayindetroit.com

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