Sting’s ‘Last Ship’ Struggles to Sell


Sting’s debut Broadway musical The Last Ship is set to close Jan. 24. After struggling to make sales over a four-month period, despite the Grammy award-winning star’s appearance in the show, Sting’s ‘Ship’ is slowly (but surely) sinking. American audiences had difficulty relating to the play, which is set in a shipyard in a poor British town, says producer Jeffrey Seller (Rent).

Marketing for the play featured the plot of a struggling Wallsend, England, where shipyard workers were unemployed and dreaming of building one last ship. Jackie White, originally played by Jimmy Nail and later replaced by Sting, returns to his home in Wallsend after 15 years abroad and agrees to join the unemployed masses in building their ship. The trials and tribulations of the townspeople is meant to play at the heartstrings of audience members.

But would a different marketing strategy with more focus on the love triangle aspect of the story have made a difference in ticket sales? In hindsight, Seller thinks this could have helped. But according to the Broadway producer, the business is unpredictable, with no telling which plays will flourish and which will flop. He says the serious nature of the book has little to do with the play’s failure. Rather, a flaw in the play’s marketing strategy is to blame for lack of attendance.

However, mixed reviews about the play’s book reveal otherwise. Originating in Chicago, the playbook suffered criticism from reviewers who stated the plot was unfocused and confusing. With elements of a love triangle, a shipyard, unemployed townspeople and family duties, it is easy to see how audience members can feel overwhelmed by competing themes.

Still, with a cast, crew and budget like The Last Ship’s it is hard to identify just why the play has so much difficulty selling. Besides a great score provided by Sting, the play featured writers John Rogan (Red) and Brian Yorkey (Next to Normal) as well as director Joe Mantello (Wicked). With a $15 million budget to boot, plus Sting’s joining of the cast to boost sales in December, it is difficult to say just what went wrong with this particular play.

Ticket sales were never especially good for this play, with the musical losing $75,000 per week since its opening in October. Sting’s joining of the cast boosted sales for a short while, but Broadway’s Christmas and New Year weekend sales reports showed the play only earned $953,165 in revenue. This, compared to the $2.7 million earned by Wicked and $2.5 million earned by The Lion King showed the cast and crew just how far behind they were. Add that to the mere 83 percent occupancy rate, and it’s no wonder why the doors will be closing on The Last Ship January 24.

Sting will continue to perform in The Last Ship until its closing date. Despite the rock star’s appearance in the show, sales continue to plummet and the unemployed shipyard workers are not the only ones who appear to be struggling. Producer Jeffrey Seller continues to hold out hope for the play, noting that one of America’s classics, Porgy and Bess, was not well-received its first time on Broadway. While the curtains close on this unique tale Jan. 24, perhaps it is not completely over for this cast and crew. With the unpredictable nature of Broadway, it is difficult to say when or if the musical is truly gone for good.

By Carly Szabo

New York Times
CBS News

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