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With “The Last Ship,” Sting becomes the latest sexagenarian rock star to try his hand at writing a Broadway musical—and the latest to blow it. Not that he didn’t have help galore from John Logan and Brian Yorkey, who have weighed him down with a stinker of a book. Nevertheless, his own mistakes merit careful consideration, if only in the hope of preventing other novices from galumphing down the same road to artistic ruin.
First, though, the book. As soon as the phrase “An industry dies” is uttered some 15 seconds into “The Last Ship,” you know everything that will happen for the next two-and-a-half hours: (A) Obsolescent factory (in this case, a shipyard) goes belly-up. (B) Angry workers join hands to reopen it, thereby (C) regaining their manhood. It is, in other words, the Universal British Plot, in this case meaning “Kinky Boots” minus sequins.
When you start out with clichés, you usually end up with them, and Messrs. Logan (“Red”) and Yorkey (“If/Then”) let ‘em fly throughout….
The anodyne pop-rock music of “The Last Ship,” which began life as an album-length song cycle, sounds like an anthology of B-sides—no, better make that C-sides. As for the lyrics, they are, predictably enough, dramatically inert: None of them tells you anything you don’t already know about the characters or the plot, meaning that this “ship” loses its momentum, goes dead in the water and starts to sink whenever anyone strikes up a tune….
The Roundabout Theatre Company is giving “The Real Thing,” Tom Stoppard’s stingingly truthful portrait of modern marriage and its discontents, its third Broadway outing in as many decades. That’s not too often, but only if the revivals are out of the ordinary, and Sam Gold’s lackluster staging fails to rise to the occasion.
It happens that “The Real Thing” was done extraordinarily well at Chicago’s Writers’ Theatre in a standard-setting 2011 production directed by Michael Halberstam and starring Carrie Coon, with whom, thanks to “Gone Girl” and “The Leftovers,” the rest of America is now catching up. Maggie Gyllenhaal is playing the same role in New York—it is, surprisingly, her Broadway debut—but she doesn’t make anything like the same who-is-this-amazing-woman impression as did Ms. Coon. Also in the cast are Ewan McGregor (another Broadway debutant) and Cynthia Nixon, both of whom, like Ms. Gyllenhall, give performances that are forced and over-emphatic. Moreover, the overall pacing of the show is sluggish: “The Real Thing” demands a light, deceptively casual-sounding touch, and doesn’t get it.
Could it be that the production is getting in the way of the actors? Mr. Gold is an intelligent, imaginative interventionist who at his frequent best sheds sharp raking light on the plays that he stages. Here, though, his “innovations,” such as they are, have the meretricious smack of arbitrary cleverness…
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To read my review of The Last Ship, go here.
To read my review of The Real Thing, go here.
A scene from Writers’ Theatre’s 2011 revival of The Real Thing, starring Carrie Coon: