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British Labo(u)r Politics on Broadway

“The Last Ship,” the Broadway musical with songs and lyrics by Sting and a story inspired by his life, closes on Sunday. It both should and shouldn’t. There are some lovely songs and great performances (particularly Michael Esper in the lead – not Sting, who’s a stoic statue). The love story feels too familiar; the father-son relationship is much more original. (And the harmonizing male duets are heartbreaking and musically fresh.) The Sisyphean task at the heart of the tale at times feels absurd; it would benefit from a more allegorical treatment.

But what struck me watching the show was how frequently I’ve seen British labor politics play out on Broadway recently: “Billy Elliot,” with its FU to Maggie Thatcher, “Kinky Boots,” about workers at a struggling shoe factory, and now “The Last Ship,” the same with boats but more somber. You could add “The Full Monty,” though the musical version was set in America, and “Made in Dagenham,” about an auto plant strike, currently on the West End. What’s it about these stories that make them musical material? Do they help us identify with the working class, or is the top dollar we pay to watch them a cruel joke? And how many more jolly pub scenes can Broadway bare?

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