Grammy Award-winner Sting jumped aboard his Broadway musical "The Last Ship" as its newest star Tuesday night, hoping to help right a show that's been listing dangerously at the box office.
A bearded Sting got a standing ovation — and a bouquet of white roses — at the Neil Simon Theatre after playing the role of a foreman in the musical. He took no special bow, choosing to stay in line with the ensemble as the clapping grew deafening.
"It's a play. It's supposed to be fun and it's great fun," Sting said afterward. "The audience were so with us. They were so buoyant. The cast, too. It was a wonderful experience."
"The Last Ship" is a semi-autobiographical story about a prodigal son who returns to his northern England shipbuilding town to reclaim the girl he abandoned when he fled years before. He finds the workers are now unemployed and entertaining the idea of building one last boat to show off their skill and pride.
The show, with no bankable stars until now, has struggled at the box office, attributable in part to its challenging topic. Sting hopes he can help raise both awareness and the weekly take to $625,000 a week, which would put it in the black. Last week it made only $492,000.
"I had no intention of going in when I was writing it, but I wanted to help the show out. It's hard to put on a new musical on Broadway, as many shows will tell you," Sting said. "We had a secret weapon and we used it."
Producer Jeffrey Seller said that though Sting is an ensemble player in an ensemble show, he's done two things: "He has given the audience enough of his own unique gifts to please them and satisfy them. And he has also lifted up the whole evening, emotionally."
Since word of Sting's arrival, Seller said the show quickly raised $1 million. "That's manna from heaven," he said. "We're going to make real money this week and for every week he's in the play, I hope. And then we'll take it from there."
The move isn't unprecedented. Green Day's frontman Billie Joe Armstrong made several onstage visits to his show "American Idiot." But U2's The Edge and Bono or Phish frontman Trey Anastasio chose not to join their leaky ships.
Sixteen-time Grammy winner Sting, born Gordon Sumner, drew on his childhood, growing up in Newcastle to help create the story. He was last onstage on Broadway in 1989's revival of "The Threepenny Opera," and "The Last Ship" marks his debut as a musical composer.
Sting took over the foreman's role from Jimmy Nail, a well-known singer, actor and producer in the U.K. In the show, the softhearted foreman with a gruff exterior helps lead the workers to finish their ship.
Nail was in the audience Tuesday and called the experience "absolutely extraordinary." It was the first time he'd actually seen the final product since he's been onstage with it each time. "I can't tell you how proud I am that my name is associated with it," he said.
How did Sting do in his old role? "I felt like an expectant father in a delivery room," Nail said. "Each time he went to do a song, it felt like one of the contractions. But I'm just so proud of him."
The $15 million project began as a CD and PBS concert special before it was turned into a stage version for a pre-Broadway stop in Chicago this summer. Pulitzer Prize and Tony-winning lyricist Brian Yorkey ("Next to Normal") and Tony-winner John Logan ("Red") wrote the book, and Tony-winner Joe Mantello ("Wicked") directs.
The cast album comes out Dec. 16.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits