A musical about the decline of the Tyneside shipbuilding industry was always going to be a tough sell in New York.
But ticket sales for the new Broadway show written by Sting about his home town of Wallsend are so disastrous that the former Police frontman has now been parachuted in to play the lead - at the expense of current star Jimmy Nail.
Reviews for The Last Ship, which opened less than a month ago, have been cool to say the least.
While some critics praised Sting’s rousing songs and the “hearty, stomp-heavy choreography”, many complained that the story was irredeemably boring - a cardinal sin in a city where show tickets cost up to $250
“The truth is that all the melodic tunes in the world can’t save a show from the crucial failing of being dull,” wrote David Rooney of Hollywood Reporter, while The Independent’s Tom Teodorczuk lamented the “cliché-ridden, predictable and depthless” book - which was penned by writers John Logan and Brian Yorkey.
For the past three weeks the $15m show has foundered at the box office, losing $75,000 a week. With the Neil Simon Theatre less than two-thirds full for most nights, the producers have decided they needed real star quality to bring in the crowds.
Sting replaces Nail – familiar to British television audiences as star of Auf Wiedersehen Pet – in the role of Jackie White, the shipyard foreman. While most stage stars might take umbrage at being ditched so quickly, Nail - a longstanding friend of Sting - claimed he was stepping aside “happily” for the good of the show.
The musician will make his debut on 9 December, performing eight times a week, with producers hoping fans of The Police and his solo career will come flocking.
But Broadway insiders said there was no certainty that the substitution would boost ticket sales - especially as the musical features an all-new score rather than any of his classic hits. One reviewer said fans hoping for the pop sensibility of songs like Every Breath You Take “will be left wanting”.
Sting’s last appearance on the Great White Way proved a flop in 1989 as Mack the Knife in a production of The Threepenny Opera.
The Lost Ship is set in Wallsend, near Newcastle, where Sting grew up and the lead character is loosely based on him. The story follows Gideon, who returns home after 14 years to find the shipbuilding industry on the brink of collapse and the community splintering.
Sting admitted that the problem could be down to the “challenging” subject matter on Broadway where “popular shows are based on movies or hit songs”.
He told The New York Times that the producers were not just parachuting him in just because of his fame. “It’s not like I’ve flown in from Planet Rock Star to save the day,” he said. “I’ve been working on this show for five years and been at every rehearsal, every performance.”
Lead producer Jeffrey Seller said. “We need a boost, we need to break through, we need some ammo”.
Given the decidedly mixed reviews, the producer optimistically suggested Sting’s presence could keep the show running until June, when it could be in contention for the Tony awards.
The future of the show may well be decided by the end of January, when Sting has to leave to re-join Paul Simon on an international tour.
While some critics praised Sting’s music, Kyle Anderson of Entertainment Weekly said it became a “burden” to the show “anchoring this Ship when it should be making bigger waves”.Reuse content