Sting Attempts to Rescue 'The Last Ship'

Wesley Mann
Sting, with 'The Last Ship' writer John Logan

The rock star will join the cast of his Broadway musical, which has been a commercial underachiever since it opened on Oct. 26

Sting is not letting The Last Ship sink without a fight.

The former Police frontman, who composed the score for the Broadway musical set in his Northern English hometown, will join the cast as speculated, in a bid to lift the $15 million production's struggling box office.

A story that had first been rumored in a Nov. 10 column item in the New York Daily News was confirmed Sunday night on The New York Times website. That earlier report also indicated that Sting would waive his royalties from the musical in a bid to keep weekly running costs down and help producers through what was clearly a major commercial challenge.

Sting will join the production starting Dec. 9 and will appear through Jan. 10, traditionally the busiest period of the year for Broadway theatergoing. He steps into the role of shipyard foreman Jackie White, currently being played by British singer-songwriter Jimmy Nail. Sting last appeared on Broadway as Macheath in a 1989 production of The Threepenny Opera.

Read more 'The Last Ship': Theater Review

The story of The Last Ship centers on a young man named Gideon, who comes from a long line of shipbuilders. He has a bitter falling out with his father over his refusal to shackle himself to a dying industry, prompting Gideon to run off and leave behind the love of his life. His return years later coincides with a valiant show of strength by the unemployed shipyard workers to honor their proud tradition.

Written by John Logan and Brian Yorkey, and directed by Joe Mantello, the show received generally positive reviews for Sting's evocative score and Mantello's atmospheric staging. However, the book was widely criticized for its cargo of cliches and for attempting to pass off improbable plotting as poetic allegory. Those notices did not yield the post-opening box-office bump that producers had hoped for.

Read more Sting Reflects on Life at 63, His Own Mortality and a "Possible Third Act"

Following a summer tryout run in Chicago, the musical began previews on Sept. 29 at Broadway's 1,349-seat Neil Simon Theatre and officially opened on Oct. 26. It has failed to crack $600,000 in any single week, with cumulative grosses of less than $3.8 million through Nov. 16. Audience capacity has hovered around the 60-percent mark for the past three weeks. The Times coverage estimates that the show's weekly running cost is at least $625,000.

The presence of a bona fide music-industry star has been known to have a sizable impact on the box office, if not a lasting one.

Green Day lead Billie Joe Armstrong joined the cast of the Broadway musical adaptation of American Idiot in two separate stints during the show's 2010-11 run, both times bringing a significant boost to ticket sales. However, grosses suffered a steep drop-off following the end of Armstrong's second special-guest-star engagement. The production closed soon after, without going into profit.

Whether Sting can keep The Last Ship afloat, let alone create enough forward momentum to keep it going beyond Jan. 10 and attract the attention of Tony Awards voters, remains to be seen. On Monday morning, the composer-lyricist along with lead producer Jeffrey Seller (Avenue Q) are scheduled to meet with the press to formally announce their plans for the show's future.