Pasadena, Calif. — Sting has fond memories of listening to his mother’s Broadway albums as a child.
“If you scratch me, I will start singing ‘Carousel,’ ” he told reporters recently at the Television Critics Association press tour. He also counts “Oklahoma!,” “My Fair Lady,” and “West Side Story” as other favorites. “All of those things were burned into my brain as a child. I wore those records out.”
So it’s fitting that the former Police-man and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is embarking on a theatrical adventure of his own with “The Last Ship,” which opens in Chicago in June before heading to New York in the fall. The show is a semi-autobiographical tale of his childhood in a shipbuilding community.
Before its Broadway debut, however, Sting, his band, and several special guests performed the songs from “The Last Ship” at New York’s Public Theater and that show airs Friday at 9 p.m. on Channel 2 as part of PBS’s “Great Performances” series.
Sting recently fielded questions about the show via satellite from New York, where he was rehearsing for his upcoming tour with good friend and neighbor Paul Simon, which hits the TD Garden on March 3.
Q. You’ve repeatedly explored some of the ideas in “The Last Ship,” particularly on “The Soul Cages,” which was very personal concerning your parents. Is any of that in this story or have you veered off for something completely different?
A. That landscape of my childhood is still the landscape of my dreams. I still find myself back there a lot of the time, trying to sort out, understand what actually happened to me as a child. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant childhood, and yet I’m drawn back there to try and find answers. So there are elements of “The Soul Cages” in this new play, particularly the relationship between fathers and sons. It’s about community. It’s about the importance of work, about the dignity of work, how sometimes abstract economic theories do not favor community, and yet without community there is no economics, in my opinion. So it’s really about a lot of important issues at this time.
‘I imagine that I’m going to have a kind of postpartum depression handing these songs completely over to actors, which is why it was important for me to sing these songs in the show that’s going to be on PBS.’
Q. As someone who has had your own vision for a long time, are you prepared to let your baby go and watch other people singing these songs perhaps not exactly how you envisioned them?
A. I imagine that I’m going to have a kind of postpartum depression handing these songs completely over to actors, which is why it was important for me to sing these songs in the show that’s going to be on PBS. I basically played all the characters apart from one or two and claimed ownership of them. So now I can happily launch those songs into the ocean and let other people take charge. I think I will feel a little pang. I anticipate that.
Q. You talk a little comically in “Shipyard” about the arrogance and humor of trying to do something creative. As successful as you’ve been, do you get nervous about this new venture and how it might be received?
A. Yeah, I’m not afraid of failure. I’m not sure how you define failure, but I’m here for the process. And I’ve learned a great deal by writing these songs and collaborating with these wonderful people. So it’s already been a success in that way. You know, my growth as an artist, if you like, has been helped by this process. Whether it succeeds or not, it’s in the hands of the gods, and we can only do our best.
Q. Which of Paul’s songs are you most looking forward to performing?
A. Paul asked me if I would sing “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which is one of my favorites. You know, Paul had a long partnership with Art Garfunkel for many, many years, and it’s not my job to impersonate Art. He has one of the most iconic, beautiful voices in the history of rock ’n’ roll. But my job is to interpret and honor the notes and the lyrics that have been written, and I will be me. But I’m delighted to sing songs from that canon. I’ve always been very fond of “America,” which Paul doesn’t normally do, but I’ve asked him if we could include that. But there’s a lot of songs to choose from, and we’re going to dip into it.
Q. And which songs of yours has Paul Simon expressed an interest in performing? And how do you see his voice and musicianship fitting into those songs?
A. Paul is very keen on songs like “Fields of Gold,” which he loves, songs like “Fragile.” I think the gentler side of my repertoire interests him. We have sung together before. We did a big charity (event) last year in New York, and it was surprising how quickly our voices did blend just because we’re experienced at doing it, but there is a nice blend there. So I have no fears about that. Paul is a great singer.
Q. Vocally, are you going to him? Or is he coming to you? Or is there someplace in the middle that you meet?
A. I think there’s someplace in the middle that we can meet. He will pick up something of my energy, and I’ll pick up some of his. Again, it’s a learning experience. He’s the master. If I ever wanted to emulate a literary and literate songwriter, then Paul Simon would be the person I would go to.