Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner – who is better known as Sting – would as a young man growing up in Newcastle upon Tyne go to local clubs to hear performers such as Cream or Manfred Mann. Their influence on him resulted in a career for Sting that is close to five decades long and includes 17 Grammy wins.
Now it is Sting’s turn to be the influencer. His catalogue of work both as a member of the Police and as a solo artist served as the inspiration for “Great Performances: Message in a Bottle” scheduled to air at 9 p.m. Nov. 3 on Valley PBS.
Three-time Olivier Award nominee, Kate Prince, has staged and choreographed the production that features Sting’s music. It focuses on the international refugee crisis through a visual tale of three siblings whose village is attacked and must embark on a journey to survive.
Sting takes great pride in being part of musical history when it comes to being touched by and touching others through song.
“Well, it’s a lovely legacy to be part of. I always feel that I’m part of a continuum of songwriters. Troubadours have been telling their stories throughout history, and it’s a very proud legacy for me,” Sting says. “Now that I’m an elder statesman, I have to feel good about that.
“I hope that the message that I’m trying to relay is getting through, and I think it is judging by Kate’s wonderful interpretation, and so I can only feel good.”
Prince’s presentation of Sting’s work features musical arrangements by Alex Lacamoire, who worked on Broadway’s “Hamilton.” It is a mix of dance styles performed by Kate Prince’s ZooNation dance company at London’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre.
Sting found the suggestion to use his music to tell this story to be a “wonderful surprise.” That’s because he never thought about dance as being a medium into which the songs could be translated.
“I went to a very early rehearsal in London and I was deeply, deeply moved, even in the rehearsal situation at a very early stage. It was such a moving story. And I remember tearing up and surprising myself that this was happening,” Sting says. “But I never anticipated this when I was writing these songs that they could be interpreted in this manner so successfully.
“I’ve seen the show a couple of times in the theater with audiences, and I see how the same effect it had on me, it works with an audience to an even greater extent. And it’s such an important story as well as being wonderfully entertaining.”
There are numerous musicals – from “Jersey Boys” to “Mama Mia!” – that have taken the collective works of artists and created a stage production. Sting was never interested in such a project as they all seem to have shoehorned the music into a cheesy story.
He found “Message in a Bottle” to be completely different as the story encapsulated his feelings about the world and his concerns. Songs by Sting used to tell the story include “Every Breath You Take,” “Roxanne,” “Walking on The Moon” and “Message in a Bottle.”
It was “Walking on the Moon” that inspired Prince to write the production. It was a song that was sung during her wedding ceremony and that emotional connection sparked her idea to adapt Sting’s body of work.
“Message in a Bottle” ends with “Walking on the Moon.” Prince found it the perfect selection to summarize the production.
“Our show ends with that song, and it bursts into joy and celebration as the characters reach a point where they are able to move forward and be happy despite what they’ve been through. So, it shows resilience and hope and love, which is what’s at the heart of the story,” Price says.
Sting did write a decade ago the music and lyrics for the original stage product “The Last Ship.” He found that process far more difficult than any other musical work he had done while at the same time being one of the most rewarding.
“It’s a very, very difficult discipline. You have to be prepared to cut things that you love. You can’t have a song begin, and then by the end of the song the plot hasn’t moved on. That is the discipline,” Sting says. “And so songs get thrown out. Couplets get thrown out. Whole verses get thrown out by the collaborative process, and it is difficult, but at the same time very, very rewarding.
“So, it’s a difficult art. I probably had more fun writing ‘The Last Ship’ and putting it on than almost anything else in my life. I would love to do that again with a project that meant as much to me as ‘The Last Ship’ did. In the meantime, we have ‘Message in a Bottle’ and Kate’s done all the work for me.”