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FLASH FRIDAY: Sting Injects Broadway With Rock Royalty

Today we are heralding the long-awaited Broadway return of international rock icon Sting with a salute to his theatrical work.

Sail Away

Born Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, British-born rock royalty Sting gained his familiar moniker early on in his music career, originally intentioned as a winking homage to the bumble bee-esque appearance he evoked when wearing a colorful striped sweater onstage. The rest, as they say, is rock history. Evidencing his exceptional musical diversity with a number of impressive albums as a solo artist and also as lead member of rock group The Police, the ubiquitous radio hits racked up by Sting over the course of his 30-plus-year career thus far are staggering to consider - "Every Breath You Take", "Roxanne", "Message In A Bottle", "Fields Of Gold" and many more among them. Looking back, while the heyday for The Police occurred from 1978 through 1983, it was with the first single presented by Sting as a solo artist that his innovative and idiosyncratic theatricality was first revealed to the public at large, despite the Police presenting entertaining and involving live stage shows, and which shows early proof of his affection for the theatrical.

Following some one-off concert appearances and charity releases, Sting's first official single as a solo artist was the surprise 1982 hit "Spread A Little Happiness", which, curiously enough, appeared on the soundtrack of the original television play BRIMSTONE AND TREACLE, written by PENNIES FROM HEAVEN and THE SINGING DETECTIVE mastermind Dennis Potter. As history would have it, the song was originally penned by Vivian Ellis for the hit 1928 musical MR. CINDERS, a gender-reversed take-off on the popular Cinderella fairy tale. A few years thereafter, Sting then embarked on his first full solo album, THE DREAM OF BLUE TURTLES, involving the talents of many notable contemporary jazz musicians, including Branford Marsalis, Kenny Kirkland, Darryl Jones and Omar Hakim. Intriguingly, one of the many hit songs from the album, "Russians", took its musical cue from the famous Russian musical piece LIEUTENANT KIJE SUITE by Sergei Prokofiev. Other classical music pursuits of the era include an all-star recording or Igor Stravinsky's THE SOLDER'S TALE, featuring Sting alongside Sir Ian McKellen and Vanessa Redgrave, as well. Continuing to show his passion for jazz, Sting also performed on the Miles Davis album YOU'RE UNDER ARREST the same year as his solo debut, 1985. Most notably, Sting recorded a memorable version of the musical theatre standard "Mack The Knife", originally presented in Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's seminal THE THREEPENNY OPERA that same year, included on the Weill compilation album LOST IN THE STARS: THE MUSIC OF KURT WEILL.

As Broadway babies know, Sting's affection for the jaunty Weimar Berlin tunes of Weill would eventually lead to his Broadway debut a few years later, when he played the role of Macheath in a short-lived revival of the edgy musical on Broadway in 1989, re-titled THE 3 PENNY OPERA. The production notably featured a new translation by Michael Feingold and direction by John Dexter, with musical staging by Peter Gennaro, co-starring Georgia Brown, Maureen McGovern and Kim Criswell. Nevertheless, the production eked out a mere 65 performances on the Great White Way before shuttering on December 31, 1989 and Sting has not been back since - until now, in THE LAST SHIP.

Since 1989, Sting has contributed to many projects with a theatrical edge, most notably providing an all-new original score for the Disney animated movie musical THE EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE, although unfortunately only a handful of the many numbers composed explicitly for the film made it into the final songstack as seen on celluloid. Additionally, Sting recorded a rousing reggae-tinged selection to the concept album for Elton John and Tim Rice's Disney musical of the same millenial timeframe, AIDA, in the album standout "Another Pyramid". Plus, Sting most recently presented a live concert of material from THE LAST SHIP which was shown on PBS stations nationwide.

It has now been 25 years since Sting has appeared on Broadway, so to have the versatile performer not only back onstage again in a major production but appearing in a brand new musical that he himself wrote is a surefire treat for fans of the performer to seek out to experience - and THE LAST SHIP is precisely that. Centered around a struggling shipyard town and the community that is supported by its employment, the musical set in Wallsend, Tyne and Wear is loosely based upon Sting's own experiences growing up in such a locale and his passion for the project is evident to hear in the propulsive, evocative score he has composed for it. Outfitted with a book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey and directed by Joe Mantello, Tony Award winners all, Sting has certainly come back to Broadway in prestigious style.

Island Of Souls

So, now, let's look at some of Sting's very best theatrically-related moments from the last 30 years.

First up, hear Sting's radio hit originating in vintage stage musical MR. CINDERS.

Next, Sting sings a plaintive Gershwin cover.

Now, hear Sting's take on THE THREEPENNY OPERA.

Also, see Sting sing THREEPENNY in its original tongue.

Don't miss Sting's AIDA concept album cut, "Another Pyramid".

The Police's "Roxanne" is famously featured in Baz Luhrmann's MOULIN ROUGE.

Plus, preview Sting's songs for THE EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE as seen on the 2001 Academy Awards.

Sting teams up with Matthew Morrison for a spirited duet.

The cast of THE LAST SHIP cover "Roxanne".

Sting joins the cast of THE LAST SHIP at this year's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Sting performs songs from THE LAST SHIP at the show launch event.

Go behind the scenes of THE LAST SHIP cast recording sessions.

View Sting's WHEN THE LAST SHIP SAILS show-centric PBS concert.

Lastly, peruse the new promo for Sting in THE LAST SHIP on Broadway.

As a special bonus, hear Sting amusingly perform some recognizable ringtones.

What has been your absolute favorite Sting song over the years? Furthermore, what is your choice for his best composition written and/or performed exclusively for a stage or screen property? Having had a career this unique and intriguing thus far, the possibilities for what Sting can and will do - and write - next are as fascinating to consider as all that he has achieved already.
Go ahead, turn on the red light!

Photo Credits: Walter McBride, etc.

Next on Stage

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From This Author Pat Cerasaro

Pat Cerasaro contributes exclusive scholarly columns including InDepth InterViews, Sound Off, Theatrical Throwback Thursdays, Flash Friday and Flash Special as well as additional special features, (read more...)