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Review: ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE at Ogunquit Playhouse

An escape in Ogunquit

Review: ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE at Ogunquit Playhouse Review: ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE at Ogunquit Playhouse

The Ogunquit Playhouse rolls out the second show of its 2021 season with a performance of Jimmy Buffet's Escape to Margaritaville, a jukebox musical with music and lyrics by (no surprise) Jimmy Buffet and book by Greg Garcia and Mike O'Malley.

With many audience members dressed in their tropical island garb, it is clear that this show appeals to those who relish the music of Jimmy Buffet- aka Parrotheads. And there were a few diehards in the audience who clearly recognized and acted out and sang such Buffet standards as "Fins," "Why Don't We Get Drunk," "Cheeseburger in Paradise," and "Five O'clock Somewhere."

For the rest of us, unfortunately, the evening is a bit of a challenge. While the cast is mostly a young, talented and energetic diverse group of actors who seem to be enjoying themselves in the tropical island theme, they are far better than the script that's given them. They sing and dance through an array of numbers with every ounce of energy as if they were doing a spectacularly grand musical.

But Escape to Margaritaville, is not a spectacularly grand musical. For the most part, it is a lightweight script with one dimensional characters in highly predictable circumstances. The grandfather of all juke box musicals (grandmother?) Mamma Mia sets the bar for the genre with a compelling story that blends with the tunes by Abba. Margaritaville tries desperately to achieve the same with the Jimmy Buffet catalog of music which suffers from similar sounding tunes interspersed with dialogue that reminds me of a TV sitcom that is cancelled after its first season.

Example: The male lead asks the standoffish girl he's just met, "Is there a boyfriend at home I'm competing with?" Her girlfriend chimes in, "Nope. She works so much the only relationship she has lives in her nightstand and they break up every time it runs out of batteries." Cue the rim shot.

The evening is cluttered with titters of laughter and occasional groans. No belly laughs here.

The plot of the show combines tired gags with a trio of stereotypical romances.

The determined and work conscious Rachel (Cailen Fu) escapes Cincinnati and heads to a tropical resort with her friend, Tammy (Megan Kane) who is set to be married to Chadd (Anthony J. Gasbarre, III), a jerk of a boyfriend who constantly chides Tammy about her slightly robust figure.

While on the island, Tammy falls for Brick (Matt Wolpe) a fun-loving bartender who shares her sense of humor and love of fatty food. She spends the week trying not to stray from her betrothed, but soon realizes that Brick is a better match for her.

In the meantime, Rachel, a workaholic scientist, is not in search of love but finds herself falling for Tully (Jake David Smith), a beach bum womanizer who finds weeklong flings with ladies in search of fun in the sun with no strings attached. Tully and Rachel play out your typical boy meets girl, girl leaves boy, and boy and girl eventually find one another scenario but with few engaging events along the way.

Meanwhile, Marley (Crystal Sha'nae), the resort's owner, trades barbs with J.D. (John Antony) an old lost soul and permanent fixture at the barstool, as they find their own way to marital bliss.

You'll find some elements in this show that won't be found in any other stage musical ever produced. There's an erupting volcano that wreaks havoc on the island, dance numbers starring zombie insurance salesmen who were presumably killed in a previous volcano eruption, and Rachel who is obsessed with a project that has her genetically modifying potatoes grown in the volcanic soil rich with magnesium and iron that might generate enough clean power to run a refrigerator.

Storytelling and character development is in short supply here. What could have been a spellbinding story with Jimmy Buffet tunes is more like a mini concert of his greatest hits.

But again, there is no shortage of talent in a cast that does its best with a weak plot.

Smith, as Tully, is engaging as he sings Jimmy Buffet a bit better than Jimmy Buffet. He's charismatic whether playing a rollicking number or a reflective tune in the dual role of singing and strumming his guitar.

Fu portrays one of the more interesting characters going from determined scientist to blushing bride. It is a nice transformation.

Kane and Wolpe are the essence of a buffoonish couple that finds true love in paradise. Kane is a master of comic timing playing equally well with Wolpe's bits and gags.

Antony and Sha'nae are convincing standouts with Antony excelling at the old codger portrayal and his rendition of the audience favorite tune "Why Don't We Get Drunk." (The audience gladly filled in the rest of the title on multiple occasions. Parrotheads will know the phrase.)

Technically, the show was sound. Scenic Designer, Nate Bertone created staging from the resort hotel lobby to the lush greenery of the volcano and environs, to the neighborhood bar in Cincinnati. Costumes by Dustin Cross were bold and tropical and choreography by Brandon Kelly was fun and lively. Even Director, Richard J. Hinds should be commended for doing his best to keep the feeble story moving along nicely.

Yet, I am stuck on so many questions.

The sound system in the Leary Pavilion was perfect for the production of Spamalot that opened the Ogunquit season balancing voices with orchestra. In this show, the balance wasn't there with the result being everything sung at one volume: blaringly loud. It was particularly harsh with the female voices that simply overpowered every number. The volume even made it difficult to understand what some actors were saying.

What was that occasional sound coming from the right side of the stage? Was it actors talking while offstage or technicians bantering to keep the production together? Didn't happen often but very distracting, nonetheless.

And I beg to ask, was this a highly requested production or something pulled out of the hat in hopes of drawing a different crowd to the playhouse? It simply doesn't hold much weight against the longstanding string of musical powerhouse performed in the Ogunquit Playhouse the likes of "Sunset Boulevard," "Hunchback of Notre Dame," "Billy Elliott," and others. It is simply a very forgettable show with the highlight of the evening being the number, "Cheeseburger in Paradise!" It is just not my taste.

But my taste, ultimately, doesn't matter. At the performance I attended, many in the audience were decked out in Hawaiian shirts with many clutching a tropical drink from the bar that remained opened throughout the entire show. They were Parrotheads having a fun night in the theater. That's what really matters.

Photos: Nile Scott Studios/Nile Hawver

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