Because it is the Jimmy Buffett jukebox musical, Escape to Margaritaville, I suspect, will never get the praise and esteem it deserves. What a shame. This is a delightful two and a half hours, a paean to cargo shorts and day drinking that avoids nearly all the pitfalls of the genre. While Mamma Mia!, for example, practically breaks blood vessels straining to string a narrative through a series of unrelated ABBA songs, Margaritaville has the benefit of back catalogue almost entirely dedicated to catchy tunes about beaches and cocktails. It’s almost as if Buffett has been writing this musical all along, and it’s only now that someone has finally put the pieces into place.
Tully (Paul Alexander Nolan) is a singer/songwriter hiding out in the Caribbean, working at a dive bar-cum-hotel and sticking to a strict regimen of one-week relationships. Tammy (Lisa Howard), about to marry the boorish Chadd (Ian Michael Stuart), ditches the Cincinnati winter to take a holiday with her best friend, edaphologist and general buzz-kill Rachel (Alison Luff), falling fairly quickly for Tully’s best friend, the convivial bartender Brick (Eric Peterson). Rachel, meanwhile, tries to stay focused on collecting soil samples from the local volcano, but Tully’s guileless charm soon has her shedding her hyper-critical perfectionism. The cast is filled out by the bar’s factotum (Andre Ward), its resident drunk (Don Sparks), and a stern-but-not-really-stern proprietress (Rema Webb).
It’s not hard to see how all this falls together, but considering Buffett’s line of restaurants and domestic beer, this could have easily been a cynical cash-grab. Instead, Escape to Margaritaville is endlessly amiable fare, pulsating with unaffected sincerity and good vibes. It takes a certain kind of genuine cheerfulness to get away with telling people they have a “license to chill.” Margaritaville has that cheerfulness in spades.