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Sting Responds to the The Last Ship's SOS Call

The music icon talks about joining the cast of his musical for a limited holiday-season engagement.

Sting poses underneath the marquee for The Last Ship at the Neil Simon Theatre.
(© David Gordon)

The last thing you want to do is fire your best friend, even if his relief from duties is only temporary. But when the producers of the floundering Broadway musical The Last Ship came to Sting, its 16-time Grammy-winning songwriter, with an SOS call for him to take on the role originated by Jimmy Nail, it was a quandary the legendary rocker had to face head-on.

"Jimmy's my best friend," Sting said. "He and I have been working on this thing together for five years. To get the play to survive, I had to throw my best friend under the bus? I [didn't] even have the heart to ask him." So, the higher-ups did it, and thankfully, it didn't end a friendship. "Jimmy is a big man in every sense," Sting continued. "He said it's exactly the right thing to do."

With his pal's blessing, Sting will play Nail's role, the character Jackie White, for a limited engagement (December 9-January 10) at the Neil Simon Theatre. In Sting's view, Jackie is "the core of the whole piece," the foreman of a shipyard who encourages a group of out-of-work builders to create one final vessel before their workplace is shut down. "[I'm] getting excited about going onstage and singing," he said before a pregnant pause. "Which is what I do."

The challenge of Broadway isn't new to Sting, who made his Broadway debut as Macheath in a critically panned 1989 revival of The Threepenny Opera. However, this experience hammered home that no matter how often you can sell out Madison Square Garden, filling a thousand-seat theater eight times a week is much more difficult than sporadic concert engagements. "This is not a shoo-in musical," Sting said. "We're fighting a battle on many fronts. In the theater, we win the battle every day, hands down. The perception outside is what we need to change. It's not some grim, black-and-white…" His voice trailed off as he thought for a second. "It has those elements, but people leave the theater being uplifted. Because it is a rollicking, joyous celebration of community."

Being part of the community is what helped him through the potentially angst-filled moment when it was announced that he would join the cast. "I would feel less comfortable if I hadn't been at every rehearsal, if I hadn't been at every show," he said. "I feel I've earned my place as a member of the company, and that's what they reiterated to me. It feels right. They'll give me their support and I'll do my damndest."

And when Sting's run in The Last Ship concludes, he'll hand the baton back to its rightful owner. There might be a notes session first. "Oh boy, [Jimmy's] gonna give me so many notes," Sting said with a laugh. "I've been giving him so many notes for months now, so he's looking forward to getting his own in. Believe me."

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