There was Sting, rock’s Renaissance man, seated on a chair, acoustic guitar in hand, lyrics on a tablet on a music stand, at the sparsely filled Ordway Concert Hall on Sunday evening.
Playing to his smallest Twin Cities audience since his local debut with the Police 40 years ago at the long-gone Longhorn rock club, Sting came to share the story and songs of “The Last Ship,” his 2014 Broadway bust that’s coming to the Ordway in April — with Sting in a starring role.
Only 150 people — he chose the limit — including Ordway donors and media got to experience Sting as storyteller, historian, composer, activist, social commentator, singer, thespian and, now, pitchman.
“The Last Ship” is not a musical, he told the invitation-only gathering, but a play with songs.
“It’s fun even though it’s serious,” said the ever-charming Sting, who’s invariably serious, though he has a self-deprecating wit. “And it has some damn good songs.”
“The Last Ship” tells the story of the demise of the shipbuilding industry in the 1980s in Sting’s hometown of Wallsend, England. Characters in the play are based on people he knew growing up, he explained.
Then, accompanied by his own guitar and Rob Mathes’ piano, the Rock Hall of Famer proceeded to sing a handful of songs — some in a theatrical manner, some in a straightforward style familiar to anyone who’s heard “Fragile,” “Englishman in New York” or any of his many hits.
When he essayed a number rendered by a female character, his delivery sounded more like that of a sailor rather than the woman the seaman spurned. But that didn’t diminish the impact of Sting’s words and music.
On one selection, he fumbled a lyric midsong and repeated the line, and, after singing the title song, he admitted to having inadvertently skipped a verse.
In a brief interview after the 40-minute presentation at the Ordway, the 18-time Grammy winner and four-time Oscar nominee explained that he’s on tour promoting his new album, “My Songs,” featuring re-recordings of old material, and he’s not necessarily familiar with all the tunes from “The Last Ship,” some of which he’s never played live before because they’re for different characters.
Sting appeared in only part of the 105-show run on Broadway. The revamped play has since been presented in Salt Lake City and, earlier this year, Toronto. “The Last Ship” is scheduled to be staged in Detroit as well as St. Paul next spring.
When Sting performs at the Ordway in April, it will be during the annual celebration around Prince’s death. The 67-year-old recalled meeting the Purple One twice — once when the Minnesotan complimented Sting backstage after a performance on the Academy Awards and again when Sting sat in on bass with “the remarkably talented man” in London on a version of the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You.”
The former chief of the Police also had vivid memories of that trio’s gig at the Longhorn in 1979. “That’s where I met Vinnie Colaiuta; he was playing with the Yellowjackets next door,” Sting said, referring to his drummer since 1990. “I remember clubs better than I remember stadiums. Clubs, I remember every detail.”
There are 150 people who will long remember their evening with the Englishman in St. Paul.