Katie Aramento, Blog Editor
“The Last Ship” has set sail.
The Broadway musical conceived and composed by rock-legend Sting, officially ended its run at the Neil Simon Theatre Jan. 24, after having 29 previews and 105 regular performances. Even in last-ditch efforts to increase ticket sales by actually putting Sting in a supporting role in the show, it was impossible to recoup the original $15-million investment with mediocre audiences.
I had the opportunity to see Sting perform in “The Last Ship” the night before its closing date was announced, and I thoroughly enjoyed the show. However, it is important to address the fact that the show placed little efforts on marketing from the start.
While I strongly believe that Broadway audiences should be open to new and original works, it is inevitable that the majority of average theatergoers won’t go see something new unless they are handed information about the plot on a silver platter. That isn’t necessarily the fault of the marketing and PR teams as Sting almost constantly did interviews regarding his work on the production, and theater magazines such as Playbill and Broadway.com produced multiple articles about the show.
That being said, if I were not an avid reader of either of these websites, I wouldn’t have had a clue regarding what “The Last Ship” was about. Perhaps the show would have received more attention if smaller details were accentuated. Putting Sting’s name on the poster almost definitely would have drawn in more audiences.
Not all of the blame for the show’s closing can be placed on marketing, though. Although Sting’s music was spectacular, the show’s plot left something to be desired. It became difficult to keep up with all of the moving parts. The show detailed a love triangle, a priest’s death, the building of a new ship, family issues and the overall lives of about six principal characters. The story was not many pieces woven together, but rather included multiple different sections that were blurrily combined to create a two-hour musical. Additionally, the show’s plot, while choppy, revolves around the struggles of shipbuilding in the English town of Wallsend. While American audiences may be able to appreciate the value of the shipbuilding industry, I don’t think that they have a full connection to the content of the show. Simply put, most people just aren’t concerned about the well being of shipbuilders on the English waterfront these days.
“The Last Ship” isn’t the only musical to suffer from plot-related mishaps. Even after a video of the opening night performance was broadcast live in Times Square, “Side Show” closed after 31 previews and 91 regular performances. I would argue, as Jack Tantleff, the show’s creative producer has said, that Broadway shows that address serious issues — “Side Show” detailed the lives of conjoined twins who were exploited in vaudeville during the 1920s — tend to close faster than those like “Aladdin” or “Wicked,” which are fun-loving and less heavy. The same can be said of shows like “The Bridges of Madison County,” which detailed an affair, or “Bonnie and Clyde,” which told the intense and ultimately fatal story of the historic duo. Not only is the average Broadway ticket-buyer looking for a spectacle, but they also ultimately want to leave the theatre happy instead of emotionally fulfilled. A popular Broadway-themed club in Manhattan, 54 Below, even introduced a recent concert entitled “If It Only Even Runs a Minute,” which features musical numbers from shows that, in the minds of Broadway fans, closed too soon.
“The Last Ship” may have been too serious of a show for the average American theatregoer. Marketing and PR teams, no matter how much of a weight they carry, can’t be obligated to take the blame for content issues. However, I’ll still be listening to the show on repeat, just as I did with “Bridges” and “Bonnie and Clyde.”