$$ – $$$
On February 16, 2018, Contributing Writer Joey Love attended the first Preview Showing of Broadway’s ‘Escape to Margaritaville’ at the Marquis Theater in New York City– A new musical featuring both classic and original songs of the legendary Jimmy Buffett.
Along with my brother Jeff and best friend Eric, the three of us have been anticipating this monumental trip to The Big Apple to see Jimmy Buffett’s long-awaited musical on The Great White Way. We didn’t even think twice about driving 3 hours plus up north to attend the first-ever Broadway performance.
After years of waiting, we were finally able to Escape to Margaritaville, where the Changes in Latitudes bring together a vacationing tourist and the Son of a Son of a Sailor for a good ol’ fashioned Cheeseburger in Paradise before realizing the time is Five o’Clock somewhere and decide to go Get Drunk and Screw. [Writer’s Note: Not a 100% accurate synopsis]
The 22-song set list incorporates the lyrics of fan favorite songs into the progression of the feel-good story, and does so rather seamlessly. While some of the words were altered for comical effect or storyline purposes, the songs remain true to Buffett’s sound and melodies. The show is a supercharged, fast-paced, hilarious and an all-around fun time at the theater.
The Marquis Theatre is a gigantic, 1600-seat theatre attached to the Marriott Hotel in Times Square. Scenic Designer Walt Spangler did a nice job setting the mood for the show by decorating the lobby and interior of the theatre with just the right touch of beach-themed design. You could feel the energy and excitement in the lobby from each and every ‘Parrot Head’. Being the first official performance in New York City, nobody knew what to expect or had any reviews to use as a benchmark.
Upon curtain call, I was pleasantly surprised with the pacing and production as a whole. Escape to Margaritaville was a diverting good time at the theatre that allowed you to leave your brain at the door. Do not go in expecting any deep or dark storylines. After all, this is Jimmy Buffett we’re talking about.
Much of my praise goes to the writers: Mike O’ Malley, writer of HBO’s ‘Shameless’ and actor in CBS’s ‘Yes, Dear’, and Greg Garcia, writer of ‘Yes, Dear’ and NBC’s ‘My Name is Earl’. These two funnymen pull out all the stops in the comedy department. When I wasn’t busy humming or singing with the rest of the audience (yes, they initiate sing-a-longs!), I was busy laughing my fins off! Almost every line of dialogue was intended to induce a chuckle.
The well-selected cast are some of Broadway’s finest performers. Highlights include Charlie Pollock, who plays sidekick Brick to male lead Paul Alexander Nolan, and Lisa Howard, who plays best friend Tammy to female lead Allison Luff. The most entertaining scenes involve the characters played by these two. Both performers get their moment to shine (i.e. their own song-and-dance number).
When the performers took their bows, it was very hard to leave the theater. It felt like summertime (in frigid February) and all I wanted to do was have a beer (or two) with the cast. Of course, much of the crowd remained in their seats in hopes that Buffett himself would make a surprise appearance to round out this first showing, as he did for tryout performances in California and Louisiana. Unfortunately, one of the writers politely informed me at intermission that Buffett was not in attendance. Buffett’s Instagram post that morning proved to be an accurate indication of his whereabouts— in actual warmer climates.
I was still lucky enough to run into a few key individuals throughout the night who were involved in the production of Margaritaville. When the auditorium doors first opened, I immediately spotted Michael Utley, the keyboardist and director of Buffett’s band, the Coral Reefers Band, standing near his seat. He was very open to conversation before posing for a picture and autographing my Playbill. Mingling in the lobby during intermission was Frank Marshall, producer of Margaritaville and countless Hollywood films. He shared details on a last-minute dress rehearsal change that could make-or-break a particular scene in Act 2. Most exciting of all was running into the show’s writers, O’Malley and Garcia. As kind as could be, they asked the three of us (Jeff, Eric, and me) our opinion of the show and talked about their journey to Broadway.
Could someone who is not a die-hard fan of Buffett’s records still enjoy the show? Absolutely! There were a few songs I was unfamiliar with but it did not keep me from enjoying this crowd-pleasing show. The band even reworked some of the orchestrations to sound more Broadway-esque, giving some of Buffett’s slower tunes a more joyous tone and faster pace. Jeff and Eric both walked away with big smiles on their faces. Eric, however, a dedicated Jimmy Buffet fan, had some reservations about the storyline, which can be expected from someone who wanted to write this story himself.
With the official opening night for Escape to Margaritaville around the corner, I genuinely hope the show is able to attract the masses and sustain healthy box office returns, as Frozen, Mean Girls, Carousel, and Summer: A Donna Summers Musical near their opening nights in the coming months.
Remember: Margaritaville is more than a musical… It’s a way of life! Go see it! Fins up!