This summer, downtown Chicago stages will be lit for tales of Geordies building ships and Scots appearing from the mist.
Hey, I had to at least try for lyrical rhymes as both plays are musicals.
The former, “The Last Ship”, is the Broadway-bound show conceived by Gordon Sumner – otherwise known as Sting – which makes its debut at the Bank of America Theater June 10 through July 13.
You can check out what the music sounds like online, as it was the subject of a PBS “Great Performances” (www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/episodes/sting-the-last-ship/about-the-performance-watch-sting-perform-the-last-ship/1957/).
The songs tell a tale set in the waning days of a shipyard in Wallsend in the north of England, which is from where Sting hails. Number range in style from English folk, to sea shanties, to latter-era Sting music, which is to say sort of jazz-influenced, not-really rock, and very, very earnest.
The musical’s production team includes Tony Award-winning director Joe Mantello, a book by Tony Award-winner John Logan (“Red”) and Pulitzer Prize- winner Brian Yorkey (“Next to Normal”) and choreography by Olivier Award winner Steven Hoggett (“Once”).
So it might be somewhere between Celtic Bruce Springsteen and “Angela’s Ashes” in tone, and may be in need of a little bit of “The Full Monty” for levity. Audiences will find out soon enough.
One of the show’s leads is Rachel Tucker, who plays Meg Dawson whom Tucker describes as “a strong, feisty, hardworking, working class mother,” who finds herself involved in a love triangle.
Tucker said working on the musical has been an amazing experience. As for Sting, “He’s the first in for rehearsals in the morning and the last out in the evening.”
And, Tucker confirmed – laughing and groaning at the lame joke of a question – Sting has never told anybody involved with the production not to stand so close to him.
Tucker said the setting of “The Last Ship” has similarities to her own Belfast background, with quick, sometimes biting wit a trait of the locals. While the Sting show’s tunes are more on the English folk side, Tucker noted she comes from a place where tradition includes gatherings where people got up and sang a Celtic tune or two. And the play conveys a sense of such a community.
Trained at the Royal Academy of Music, Tucker’s career path includes being a contestant on the 2008 BBC show “I’d Do Anything,” where the winner got a part on a revival of “Oliver” and performing in a slew of touring musicals, including playing the “she’s not evil, she’s just misunderstood” green witch Elphaba in WICKED for more than 900 performances in London’s West End – a record for the role.
That production also was directed by Mantello, but for Tucker, like Sting, “The Last Ship” will mark her Broadway debut.
“My dreams and wishes are coming true. And I’m working with Sting, too,” she rhymed.
As for her stay here – with her family in tow – Tucker said, “We’ve absolutely fallen in love with Chicago.”
That’s included visits to Navy Pier, strolls along the Mag Mile, stops at The Emerald Loop, and plans to take the architectural river cruise before heading to New York in the fall.
A New Take on Brigadoon
As for a place appearing out of the mist that two American tourists fall in love with, well, The Goodman Theatre is staging a revival of the Lerner and Lowe post-WW II classic, “Brigadoon” June 27 through Aug 3.
In case you’re too young to remember the 1954 movie starring Gene Kelly, Van Johnson and Cyd Charisse or the 1966 TV version with Robert Goulet, Peter Falk and Sally Ann Howes, “Brigadoon” involves two New York white collar types who head to the Scottish Highlands for a hunting vacation. Lost in the gloaming, they come upon a town that only springs to life in this dimension once every 100 years, for 24 hours at a time.
One of the New Yorkers falls head over heels for a local lass, while the other accidentally kills somebody – and it’s an old-fashioned musical, so it all sort of works out in the end.
Chicago actor Kevin Earley is making his Goodman debut in the role of Tommy Albright, the romantic lead.
Earley – who has Irish roots – noted that the Goodman version, which is directed and choreographed by Rachel Rockwell, got permission from the late Lerner’s daughter to have writer Brian Hill add elements to the script. You can read more about it at www.goodmantheatre.org/visitbrigadoon/.
Earley said those elements included having his character battling post traumatic stress disorder.
As for the Scots, Earley said, “They are living in the aftermath of the (1746) Battle of Culloden, followed by the British Act of Proscription, which prohibited any Highland rebels from wearing their tartans and other traditional dress.”
The Goodman version also intends to offer more authentic versions of Scottish culture, music and dancing in its production compared to those found in the Vincent Minnelli Technicolor movie. Earley noted the staging also employs a minimal set, taking advantage of technology using projections and strips of scrim to help create the illusion of the mythical Brigadoon.
Of course, there have always been love stories, and the drama in “Brigadoon” comes from Earley’s character having to sort out if he really loves his gal from the past, Fiona, or if he’s trying to escape the hustle and bustle of big city life and his own post-war issues.
“Brigadoon” – like “The Last Ship” – offers a sense of community, Earley said, and its universal themes resonate to this day, almost 70 years after the musical’s debut.
“There is still war. There is still hate. And there is still hurt,” he said.
What there won’t be is Earley moving about like Gene Kelly in the movie version.
“I don’t do as much dancing as he did,” Earley said.