SUPERSTAR Sting is hoping to match the success of Billy Elliot with a new musical about shipbuilding.
The 61-year-old singer, who grew up in Wallsend, North Tyneside, has written a stage show inspired by his childhood growing up near shipyards.
The Last Ship will tell the story of the decline of the Swan Hunter yard during the 1980s and will follow a group of workers facing unemployment who decide to build their own ship.
They turn to Gideon, a young man whose difficult relationship with his father drove him away to sea but who has now returned, to skipper the vessel.
Songs will be released as an album next month and incorporate traditional Northumbrian pipes, shanties and reels into a score influenced by Gershwin and Sondheim.
The Unthanks and Sting's fellow Geordies Jimmy Nail and Brian Johnson of AC/DC are set to feature on the songs.
Sting, who was born Gordon Sumner, said: "There was the shipyard at one end of the town and the coal mine at the other.
"There wasn't really much clue about how you would make a living if you didn't want to join those two industries. I didn't. Education and music became my escape. And then, in the eighties, everything shut down. I've carried survivor's guilt ever since." He also recalled "a massive ship at the end of my street, towering over the houses and blotting out the sun. I watched many ships being launched, and there is something terrifying, apocalyptic and haunting about the event that never leaves you."
The rock star, who has been working on the project for three years, co-wrote the musical's book with Pulitzer prize winning dramatist Brian Yorkey and Skyfall screenwriter John Logan. It is due to open on Broadway next autumn.
The idea for the story was hatched when Sting read about a group of Polish shipbuilders who planned to occupy their own threatened yard. It is intended as an allegory, rather than a political attack on the Thatcher Government.
He added: "It's a crazy idea for a story, really. A quixotic, even Homeric idea."
He said he wanted the songs "to reflect the traditional music of the North East of England where I grew up, as well as tipping my hat to the great music of the theatrical tradition - Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Brecht and Weill."
Billy Elliot The Musical, set in County Durham during the 1984- 85 miners' strike and featuring songs by Sir Elton John, is still running on Broadway.
The North's Shipyards - our 8-page nostalgia section begins on page 43 today
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