Rock star Sting buoys 'The Last Ship' with Broadway role

Musician/playwright Sting attends the curtain call at a performance of "The Last Ship" at Neil Simon Theatre in New York City.

Grammy-winning rock star Sting has boosted ticket sales of his Broadway musical "The Last Ship" and won praise for his performance as a foreman in the show based on his childhood in a shipbuilding town in northeast England.

"The Last Ship," the first Broadway musical written by Sting, opened on Oct 26 to mixed reviews, winning praise for his rousing score but losing points for its confused, tangled story.

Ticket sales flagged, with the show losing a reported US$75,000 (S$99,000) a week since previews began, and the former front man of rock group the Police announced he would join the cast for a limited time.

Sting, 63, replaced British actor Jimmy Nail as Jackie White on Dec 9 as the foreman of the closed shipyard in the town of Wallsend.

In the first full week of Sting's performances, ticket sales rose to more than US$817,000 from US$491,000 the previous week.

"Brave captain takes the helm," said the New York Post in a headline on Monday, while USA Today added: "Sting steers 'Last Ship' with pride, charisma."

"Sting approaches Jackie with the same graciousness and serious-mindedness he brought to the 'Ship's' music and lyrics," USA Today added.

The musical follows Gideon Fletcher, a shipbuilder's son who leaves his girlfriend and his hometown in search of a better life.

He returns 15 years later, after his father's death, to a town hit by recession, where the shipyard has shut its doors and his lover has moved on.

Gideon decides to join the unemployed shipyard workers who take over the yard at the urging of the town's priest to build one last ship.

The trade magazine Variety described the show as "dark and gorgeously melodic" and credited Sting with galvanizing the cast, as well as the box office.

"Although he plays a secondary role in the show, Sting is a huge presence, electrifying the house in his two big solos and inspiring the other members of the ensemble, who now perform as if possessed," it said.

The New York Times said Sting's foreman seems a less pivotal figure than with Nail in the role but added his acting is "capable and efficient."

"His Jackie seems a leader more by the quiet integrity of his advice than his animal spirits," it said.

The newspaper added that despite some flaws, "'The Last Ship' remains a musically entrancing show performed with grit and passion by an excellent cast."

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