Escape to Margaritaville The Musical

  • Post author:
  • Reading time:5 mins read

Escape to Margaritaville The Musical

Marquis Theatre, NYC, March 14, 2018

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

Photos by Matthew Murphy

Lisa Howard, Alison Luff, Paul Alexander Nolan and Eric Petersen

If you’ve been dreaming of wasting away on a warm beach with a frosty drink, get over to the Marquis Theatre. Splurge on $16 for a margarita and chill with a tuneful, if mindless, jukebox musical of Jimmy Buffett songs shoehorned with singing, dancing, and romancing on a tropically technicolor stage. You might even nab a beach ball at the finale as a souvenir. However, while the music is catchy, Escape to Margaritaville is actually more silly than fun with a ho-hum romance and a stage full of cardboard characters. As for plot, you see it coming even before the first sip. 

The book is the product of television writers Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley, with a plot threading around 26 breezy songs.  Buffett created a folk-rock industry based on living the laid-back Key West life in tropical shirts and flipflops, a cool drink in one hand, and a shaker of salt in the other. Director Christopher Ashley keeps the mood upbeat enough to please any Buffett fan (“parrothead”), complete with zombies and survivors. Paul Tazewell’s costumes and Walt Spangler’s vibrant tiki hut/palm frond staging are brightly lighted by Howell Binkley.

Andre Ward

Garcia (Raising Hope) and O’Malley (Survivor’s Remorse) frame their story around Tully Mars (Paul Alexander Nolan), a freewheeling singer at a third-rate Caribbean resort owned by gutsy Marley (Rema Webb). A grizzled bit of local color is played by a one-eyed beach bum/writer, J.D. (Don Sparks), looking for his salt shaker and complaining, “My Head Hurts, My Feet Stink and I Don’t Love Jesus.” Kelly Devine’s choreography brings the stage alive, highlighting cabana boy and king of calypso Jamal (Andre Ward) and even some air-born snorkeling. 

Tully strums his guitar to Buffett tunes and flirts with mainland girls having their week in the sun. When they head back home, a new shipload of tourists arrive, ready for a good time and maybe a little romance, or, like Rachel (Alison Luff), coming for something more. Rachel is an environmental scientist from Cincinnati who is studying soil samples for her experiment with potatoes. However, when she runs into Tully, romance puts a pause in her research, and a little flirtation turns into the real thing. As the song says, “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” and Act I is fun, sun, tunes in the sun, and bed in the dark. Ah, “Havana Daydreamin’.”

Alison Luff & Paul Alexander Nolan

Rachel is traveling with her friend, Tammy (Lisa Howard), engaged to an oafish layabout who orders her to lose weight. On this last week of freedom, Tammy flirts with the resort’s bartender, Brick (Eric Petersen), a little on the dopey side but good-natured, and together they are out to prove “We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us About.” 

But the week flies by and Rachel and Tammy return to Cincinnati and, just in time, because a volcano blows, a cue for the song, “Volcano.” On the distressed island, Tully and Brick fall on tough times. Wastin’ away days are over. 

As Rachel and Tully, straight-laced Luff (Les Misérables) and freewheeling Nolan (Bright Star) are likeable romantic leads, their voices blending well. Outstanding is Howard (It Shoulda Been You) as enthusiastic and chipper Tammy. We have to cheer at her pre-wedding party when she ignores her fiance’s diet table and heads for the cheeseburgers. Yes, it’s another predictable lead-in — to “Cheeseburger in Paradise” — and it’s also the end of her engagement. There are changes all around—“Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes.” 

Escape to Margaritaville is fluff and fun with no delving into themes and motives. If your mood, however, is a “License to Chill,” the production works, especially with a margarita. You may even join the sing-along, “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw.” 

Elizabeth Ahlfors

Born and raised in New York, Elizabeth graduated from NYU with a degree in Journalism. She has lived in various cities and countries and now is back in NYC. She has written magazine articles and published three books: A Housewife’s Guide to Women’s Liberation, Twelve American Women, and Heroines of ’76 (for children). A great love was always music and theater—in the audience, not performing. A Philadelphia correspondent for and InTheatre Magazine, she has reviewed theater and cabaret for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia City News. She writes for Cabaret Scenes and other cabaret/theater sites. She is a judge for Nightlife Awards and a voting member of Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle.