“Escape to Margaritaville” the new musical based on the music of Jimmy Buffett, which recently opened at the Marquis Theatre on Broadway, is a remarkably bad show. Even the “Parrotheads” who dominated the audience seemed to respond without enthusiasm to the first several numbers.
But by the end of the show they were on their feet singing along and bouncing beach balls around the theater. It’s understandable. “Margaritaville” is so frothy and harmless it’s impossible to hate. Not that I didn’t try.
It’s also the kind of show that is difficult to recommend. It’s one of those shallow but energetic works that is redeemed by excellent performers who have fun paying homage to an infectious score. As they say – it is what it is, and if all you want for the price of a ticket is mindless entertainment. “Escape to Margaritaville” is that show.
If you love the music of Jimmy Buffet you will find something to like throughout. If you’re not a fan, the next best thing is to purchase a couple of the $16 margaritas sold in the lobby to get you in the right mood.
However, be you a fan or fortified, you still have to contend with the show’s book – which is without question – terrible. It centers about Tully, a womanizing male singer who fears rejection. His ambitions are no greater than to sing his songs at a second rate resort and bed a new pretty female tourist every week.
When Rachael arrives, for a bachelorette weekend with her best friend Tammy, things change. Tully falls in love with Rachael. However, Rachael is a serious scientist and an environmentalist who believes her quest to turn potatoes into a power source might save the world. Her career does not include a permanent relationship with a slacker.
It’s more than a conflict of interests that get in the way. The show’s plot is equally as disruptive. It includes a volcano eruption, an escape from the island via an antique plane - which takes them to Cincinnati in the middle of a blizzard just in time to save Tammy from marrying her clod boyfriend. This all happens after Tully’s best friend - the pun-loving, dimwitted Brick - encounters a tap-dancing group of zombie insurance agents who were killed in the volcano’s last eruption.
Tully gets over his rejection and becomes a national singing sensation. Meanwhile Rachael finds funding for her potato project. Three years later, they each return to Margaritaville to meet again and provide the show with a happy-ever-after ending- which includes sending dozens of beach balls into the audience.
Obviously this is a convoluted plot that seems to make no sense whatsoever. However, without forgiving book writers Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley, the idea of linking over two dozen Jimmy Buffett songs in a coherent manner is nearly impossible. But their love of puns adds to the problems as their frequent and obvious set ups are tedious. It’s an actual relief for one character to find his ”lost shaker of salt” during the performance of the title song that closes the first act.
It’s too bad the book is such a mess. The songs can be fun and the performances are terrific. Paul Alexander Nolan is a charming Tully who has a great voice and has a super sense of telling a story within the songs. Alison Luff is adorable as Rachel, who brings a sense of dignity to the character and charm to her songs. Lisa Howard as Tammy and Eric Petersen as Brick are ideal as the second bananas who also find love.
Costumes are colorful, and the lighting is as bright as the music. The choreography is uninspired, as is Christopher Ashley’s lazy direction. Indeed, one of the puzzles surrounding the production is what happened to Ashley whose brilliant direction with last season’s “Come from Away” was a highlight of the season.
Despite the major disappointments with “Escape From Margaritaville,” I would understand people who might tell me they enjoyed the show. I’m just not one of them.
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
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