Sting is hoping his star power can plug up a leaky ship.
The singer-songwriter will play the role of an inspirational foreman onstage in "The Last Ship" starting Dec. 9 at the Neil Simon Theatre. The musical, for which Sting supplied songs and lyrics, has been struggling at the box office.
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"I'm so excited. I think it will give us a little light. Frankly, we need a blip in sales to be viable," Sting said Monday. "You have to do whatever it takes."
The show, with no big stars and a challenging story to sell, brought in only $536,000 last week, less than half its $1,243,000 potential and the theater was only 60 percent full. Mixed reviews haven't helped.
"This was never going to be easy. I didn't anticipate a shoo-in at all. I expected a battle because I want to succeed against the odds," Sting said.
The move isn't unprecedented. Green Day's frontman Billie Joe Armstrong made several onstage visits to his show "American Idiot." But others from the pop world — including Bono and The Edge from U2 and Trey Anastasio from Phish — chose to stay offstage even after their shows sprung a leak.
Producer Jeffrey Seller said Sting was eager to do anything to right the vessel. "It needs help. It's more ambitious, it's more challenging than other Broadway musicals," he said.
"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.
Seller said he blamed himself for the slow tickets sales. "I feel like I have failed to find the right door to open to communicate effectively the passion, the spirit and the beauty encapsulated in this show," he said.
He said he hoped Sting's presence would generate 5,000 to 6,000 more customers a week and hopes to raise the weekly take to $625,000 a week, which puts it in the black.
Sting, born Gordon Sumner, drew on his childhood, growing up in Newcastle to write the story. He was last onstage on Broadway in 1989's revival of "The Threepenny Opera" and said he knows the musical is good — it just needs to find an audience.
"We win the battle in the theater every day. Hands down, we win the battle," Sting said. "Outside, the perception is not what it should be. So I'm hoping I can give us more of a groundswell, more of a tipping point."
Sting replaces Jimmy Nail in the foreman's role. He said he needed Nail's blessing before he could "entertain this idea." Nail apparently readily agreed and will now be Sting's understudy.
Seller said there was a certain poetic flair to the fact that Sting will now play the foreman "whose job it is to lift up his men, to raise their spirits."
The 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