Theater review by Adam Feldman
What do you expect from a Jimmy Buffett jukebox musical? The alley outside the Marquis Theatre has been done up as an empty stretch of beach, and that pretty much sums up Escape to Margaritaville, which seems intended to be watched with your feet up and a melting frozen drink in your hand. Along with more than two dozen songs from Buffett’s tropical-burnout catalog, the show offers steel drums, jean shorts, palm trees and dancers dressed as fluffy white clouds. It’s often hokey and sometimes pokey. But I’ll level with you: I had fun.
Oh, right, there is a plot. Paul Alexander Nolan plays a songwriter who works at a shabby Caribbean resort with his bartender pal (an endearing Eric Petersen), and Alison Luff is a spunky environmental scientist on a weeklong trip there with her soon-to-be-married best friend (Lisa Howard). Romance predictably ensues, stumbles, and ensues anew. Written by sitcom veterans Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley, the show doesn’t shoehorn Buffett’s songs into a story so much as cobble a story around them, extrapolating characters and situations from details in the lyrics, which is more successful in small ways than in large ones. (Shrimp, sponge cake and a lost shaker of salt are neatly planted, for example, to yield comic fruit.)
Performed by a vocally overqualified cast that also includes Don Sparks, Rema Webb and Andre Ward, the score is pleasantly catchy—I’ve had “Fins” swimming in my head for days—and it probably helps that, aside from a few crossover hits like “Margaritaville” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” Buffett’s oeuvre is not as widely known as those of past jukebox-musical subjects like Abba and the Four Seasons. That gives the score an occasional element of surprise when it ventures off the sand, as in the folky, melancholy character ballad “He Went to Paris.” But moments of introspection are few. Like SpongeBob SquarePants—which also features an active volcano, a beach-ball finale and a trippy fantasy tap-dance number—Escape to Margaritaville revels in its own goofiness. It’s not trying to be paradise; it’s fine with being a cheeseburger.
Marquis Theatre (Broadway). Book by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley. Music and lyrics by Jimmy Buffett. Directed by Christopher Ashley. With Paul Alexander Nolan, Alison Luff. Running time: 2hrs 20mins. One intemission.