DETROIT – He was born Gordon Sumner near Newcastle, England, but he left that name far behind. Even his kids now know him as "Sting," but as far as he's traveled from Newcastle, it has never left him.
That's what the idea of home is all about, and Sting's home creates the setting and storyline for his stage musical, "The Last Ship."
His 1991 album "The Soul Cages" was built around a collection of songs drawn from his childhood memories. His corner of Britain was almost wholly reliant on the shipbuilding industry, and it's demise and the loss of identity for city and citizenry alike is at the core of "The Last Ship."
The show premiered in 2014 and led to a Tony nomination for Sting. But the new production that will arrive in Detroit next spring comes with a new script and with Sting starring as Jackie White, the shipyard foreman trying to hold a community together against the waves and winds of change.
Sting, of course, sees parallels between Detroit and the great manufacturing cities of the world, where ways of life so long relied upon have struggled to survive the erosions of modernization.
As a music fan, it was indeed a thrill to sit down with Sting. He is as you would expect: thoughtful, intelligent and engaged. But to hear him play the songs of "The Last Ship" was a kind of revelation.
There's something about musical theater that reaches for high art, and I say that fully believing that "Roxanne" and all of those great Police and Sting songs are their own kind of high art. But you can feel a passionate musician enjoying all the extra cards that a musical score allows.
I also found it extremely fascinating that he finds himself in the storyteller role that often seems to fall to people like him. He left Newcastle and the ships and the life his father knew because he aspired to something else. Yet those talents he developed by leaving became central to his ability to tell the tale of the way of life he left behind, told through the words and music of an "exile," uniquely steeped in its times, traditions and trials.
"The Last Ship" will make its premiere at the Detroit Opera House from April 22 to April 26. Tickets will go on sale Nov. 29.