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Review: THE LAST SHIP at Pioneer Theatre Company

After closing last season with the first professional production of composer Frank Wildhorn's THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, Pioneer Theatre Company opens its new season with the regional premiere of a recent major Broadway show. And it's a major achievement for the company, another spotlight on PTC's excellence.

The production and performances of THE LAST SHIP are truly magnificent. It's a true joy to be swept away with a new musical and become emotional engaged through the score by the multiple Grammy-winning composer, Sting.

The book is written by John Logan (RED) and Brian Yorkey (NEXT TO NORMAL) with the story based on the rock star's childhood memories growing up in a shipbuilding town in northeast England. Haunted by his stern father's insistence that his son continue the family profession, Gideon Fletcher (Bryant Martin), leaves his home of Wallsend and then returns 15 years later to find the town hit by recession and discovers that his girlfriend, Meg Dawson (Ruthie Stephens), has begun a reluctant relationship with company man Arthur Millburn (Paul Castree). Another part of the plot involves a last-ditch effort to build a final ship in the now-closed shipyard, led by foreman Jackie White (Dan Sharkey). There's also a side story of the town's priest, Father James O'Brien (John Jellison).

If that appears as a tangled web of stories, it is. But PTC Artistic Director Karen Azenberg clarifies the action, and each storyline is polished and organically unfolds so the audience is not left guessing. She also reveals her deft hand at casting actors that personify their characters.

Beyond the stellar design -- scenery by James Noone, costumes by Gregory Gale, lighting by Michael Gilliam and hair/makeup by Amanda French -- it is the rich tapestry of male voices that deeply impresses. It'd be a real challenge to name another musical with nearly as many stirring men's solos as THE LAST SHIP, and that makes the show wholly unique. Stands to reason that Sting himself took on the ship foreman role during the closing weeks of the Broadway production.

Under musical direction by Helen Gregory, who has lead a number of PTC musical stagings, the voices in this production soar. While the sole female lead, Stephens, has a lovely voice, she is overshadowed by the majesty of vocal performances of Martin, Castree, Sharkey and Jellison. And that is reason alone to see this production.

From This Author - Blair Howell

Blair Howell's career is in the professional publishing arena (for more years than he cares to remember), with a longstanding interest in theater. He found it to be great fun to live in New Canaan,... (read more about this author)