Susan Granger’s review of “Escape to Margaritaville” (Marquis Theater on Broadway)
It’s difficult for me to be objective about Jimmy Buffett, because I consider his wistful, seductively sybaritic Margaritaville concept to be the most imaginative and inventive since George Lucas’ STAR WARS.
Admittedly, if you’ve never heard Buffett’s music or considered the laid-back debauchery of Margaritaville, you might – at first – be a bit confused by this jukebox musical. Particularly when devoted fans (known as Parrotheads) are boozing on $16 (frozen) margaritas even before the curtain goes up.
The escapist plot, patched together from Buffett’s tuneful pantheon, revolves around Rachel (Alison Luff), an uptight, workaholic environmental scientist, who embarks on a bachelorette week with her soon-to-be-married BFF Tammy (Lisa Howard), getting away from her fat-shaming fiancé (Ian Michael Stuart).
Traveling from Cincinnati to an informal Caribbean island resort called Margaritaville, they’re met by guitar-strumming Tully Mars (Paul Alexander Nolan), the beach-bum Casanova/entertainment director, and Brick (Eric Petersen), the sweetly dense bartender.
After Rachel informs him she’s eager to get soil samples from the local volcano, Tully tells her: “Work is a dirty word around here. If you say it again, we’ll have to wash your mouth out with tequila.” That’s a song cue for Rachel to poignantly declare, “It’s My Job.”
Along with romance and the inevitable “lost shaker of salt,” the breezy, beach bar festivities include Marley (Rema Webb), the wry manager; Jamal (Andre Ward), the hapless handyman; and D.J. (Don Sparks), as a rascally reprobate pilot.
Superbly cast and cleverly staged by Christopher Ashley, Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley’s sit-com storyline is slyly cobbled together, using disparate Jimmy Buffett classics like “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” “It’s Always Five O’Clock Somewhere,” “Son of a Son of a Sailor,” “Come Monday,” “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” and “Why Don’t We Get Drunk,” etc.
Walt Spangler’s palm-fronded sets are splashy, as are Paul Tazewell’s costumes, and musical supervisor Christopher Jahnke’s steel-drums resonate from the on-stage orchestra. But what’s with the singing/tap-dancing insurance salespeople zombies? They made no sense whatever.
Personal note: I’m still sad that Buffett’s 1997 musical “Don’t Stop the Carnival,” based on Herman Wouk’s novel, never made it to the Great White Way.
Bottom line: if you’re a Parrothead, it’s the most fun you’ll have on Broadway this season!