By Katie Aramento, Staff Writer
Rock music has once again found its place on Broadway.
On Oct. 26, “The Last Ship,” featuring music and lyrics by Sting, opened at the Neil Simon Theatre.
The musical is a biopic of Sting himself, a 15-time Grammy Award winner and the lead singer of The Police. From what I can see, rock stars writing for Broadway has become a pretty popular trend. It seemingly began in the early 1990s, when Pete Townshend of The Who composed “The Who’s Tommy,” a rock musical based on their two album rock opera, “Tommy.” The show played 899 performances on Broadway and won the Tony Award for Best Original Score in 1993.
Multiple other musicals composed by rock stars have become crowd favorites and cult classics, just as “The Who’s Tommy” did. “Mamma Mia,” composed by ABBA members Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, recently surpassed “Rent” as the ninth longest running Broadway musical in history, and has been performed in more than 40 countries in all six continents. I saw it for the first time just a few weeks ago when the National Tour came to Boston, and it is definitely an unusual musical experience. After curtain call, the actors head back out on stage and play three encore songs, while the audience stands and sings along as if they are at a rock concert. I may have been the youngest person in the audience, but I still had a great time! Other jukebox musicals, such as “Jersey Boys” and “Rock of Ages” have had the same sort of success.
On a completely different note, “Spring Awakening,” with music by Duncan Sheik, played 859 performances on Broadway and has easily become one of the highest regarded musicals of this generation. Who doesn’t sing along to “The Bitch of Living” at the top of their lungs? The show won the Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Original Score in 2007, and the Grammy for Best Musical Show Album in 2008. Similarly, pop legend Cindy Lauper’s score for another musical about self-realization (one with less swearing and masturbation), “Kinky Boots,” won the Tony for Best Original Score in 2013, and the show is now on its first national tour.
While these musicals have been pretty wildly successful, some other rock musicals haven’t been so lucky. We all cringe when we hear the name “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” which was written by Bono and the Edge and premiered on The Great White Way in 2011. While it did once surpass the record for ticket sales with a $2.9 million revenue in one week, the musical was more of a spectacle than a well-written piece of art. I saw the show in 2013 — when most technical difficulties were worked out and Jennifer Damiano had called it quits — and thought the music was pretty laughable. I mean, there’s a song called “Bully by Number,” where all the bullies in school sing that phrase about 20 times while essentially trying to steal Peter Parker’s backpack. Not exactly a masterpiece of theatre.
Comparably, while I love Disney’s “Tarzan,” Phil Collins’ additional music written for the Broadway production in 2006 was not so great. It lacked the emotional depth and strong musicality of the songs that were written for the film — with the exception of “Everything That I Am,” of course. Listen and love it, people.
Though I have only heard the title song from “The Last Ship,” which Sting performed with the cast at this year’s Tony’s, I did enjoy it. Perhaps the rock musical will rank among the likes of “Spring Awakening” and “Aida,” rather than that of “Spider Man.” At the moment, the show seems to be struggling at the box office, but we can always hope for the best!