How it’s New York: “The Last Ship” is playing on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre,
How it’s Irish: The themes in the music draw on the English, Scottish and Irish Traditions
When I first heard some of the music from “The Last Ship” a few years ago when Sting did a series of concerts at the Public Theater, I was intrigued to see how he was going to translate these to the stage. Going to see the show earlier this fall, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the familiar strains of traditional waltzes, jigs, and reels rising and falling alonside the poppier tunes that pepper this rich and emotional piece.
I got the chance to sit down this week and talk with Lisa Gutkin, who plays fiddle in the orchestra along with other traditional scene staples Christopher Layer on flute, whistles and pipes and Mick McAuley (most notably a longtime member of the trad supergroup Solas) on accordion. They join Paul Woodiel, a veteran Broadway violinist, with a solid traditional pedigree. All of them were handpicked by Sting and orchestrator Rob Mathes to bring the true flavor of the musical tradition to the show.
Talking with Lisa about her experience coming into the show when it moved to Broadway, she is truly enjoying the experience and collaboration between all the musicians and Sting.
Sting has given them the freedom of the interpretation that they would have in a session, as the songs have evolved along with the performances of the singers. She said that there is a lovely exchange between her and Paul on many of the tunes, adding harmonies and ornaments where their experience tells them they are due. Rather than being totally bound to the notes on the page. They also flow with the phrasing and interpretation of the singers, so often times the tempos change, depending on who is on in the part.
I’ve had the opportunity to not only see, but perform with both Lisa and Christopher Layer and the wealth of experience and talent that they bring to this show is unbounded.
They definitely give it the authentic taste of the blend of Scottish and Irish traditions that are integral to the music that Sting would have heard growing up in this are of Northern England. Towns like his native Wallsend were populated by men from the Irish shipping trades as well as the Scots, all bringing their passion, music and love a good time, which helped them through the harder times.
There is definite pathos and variation in the music that encompass more than just the Celtic styles. There is a bossa nova when the character Meg sings of her lack of luck with sailors in the boozy rollick “If you Ever Hear me Talking to a Sailor”. Trying to propose to Meg, Arthur sings a heartfelt soft ballad in “What Say You Meg” and there are the rousing chanties of “We’ve Got Naught Else” and “The Last Ship” which have enormous drive.
These tunes are definitely ones that will stay with you long after you’ve left the show and I’ll encourage you to run and see it for yourself before it pulls away from the dock on January 24th. With Sting stepping in to try and keep the ship afloat, its an exciting time and hopefully there will be a life beyond for this rough and ready score that totally delivers the highs and lows of the life in the shipyards. Run and get your tickets now before it sets sail for good!