BWW Interview: Brett Thiele Comes Back Home With ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE Tour

BWW Interview: Brett Thiele Comes Back Home With ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE Tour
Paul Nolan in Escape to Margaritaville
Photo by Matthew Murphy

Calling all Parrotheads! This week the musical starting the music of Jimmy Buffett, ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE, opens at the Saenger Theatre! If you need to escape reality for a couple of hours, sink your toes in the sand, and breathe in that fresh island air, this is the show for you. As New Orleanians, we have sort of laid claim on Jimmy Buffett, although he is originally from Pascagoula, Mississippi, because over the course of his entire career he has brought his music and lifestyle straight to our hometown. Jazz Fest anyone? If you've ever been to New Orleans, you know we like to be relaxed, enjoy our food, and listen to good music. That's why we love Jimmy so much. We have oh so much in common! For this musical to be making it's pre-Broadway debut in our city is an honor.

I think anyone who grew up around New Orleans has a Jimmy Buffett story to tell. We've either seen him perform, eaten at Margaritaville, or have brought his music along with us to every trip to Pensacola we've ever taken. Being a Parrothead is a lifestyle. Of course I grew up listening to his music, but the most vivid memories I have are of being in the backseat of my uncle's car (Shout out, Uncle Mike!) with my cousin as we drove over the Causeway bridge throwing our fins up while strapped into our car seats. They say start 'em young, right?

Brett Thiele, a New Orleans native who is now currently in the ensemble of ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE, has the distinct honor of bringing this show featuring the music of a hometown hero to the stage at the Saenger where he first fell in love with musical theatre. It doesn't get better than that, right?! Keep on reading to find out what Brett has to say about this whole MARGARITAVILLE experience.

BWW Interview: Brett Thiele Comes Back Home With ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE Tour

So I've interviewed a couple of other people who are from New Orleans, and I always ask them the same question to see if you get it right. Are you read?
Oh man, the pressure is on.

Where did you go to school?
Of course, I knew you were gonna ask this question. I went to Brother Martin, and I also did a little bit of time at NOCCA [New Orleans Center for Creative Arts] before the storm [Hurricane Katrina]. I am so happy you asked.

I always love to ask that because whenever I talk to anyone from anywhere else they always say their college. Nope. Not New Orleanians.
Nope. Oh no. You gotta know. Crusader pride all the way.

Did you study theatre at NOCCA?
Yeah. I spent a summer there, and then I was supposed to start my freshman year there, and unfortunately I only got a couple of weeks in before Hurricane Katrina changed the plan for me. I ended up going to high school out in Dallas.

Ugh. That was such a rough year! Well, you've got to be pretty excited about being able to come home and do a show here. I feel like even though Jimmy Buffett isn't from here we've kind of claimed him, so what is that excitement like of being able to come home and do this particular show?
You know, I hate to be cliché about it, but it really is like a childhood dream come true. I fell in love with theatre at the Saenger [Theatre]. I saw CATS there when I was very young. I saw my first concert there when I was young. I mean... to be able to perform on that stage with such a rich history and where I fell in love with what I'm now doing is really gonna be amazing. I've got family members who have never gotten the chance to see me perform before who are gonna be able to come see this show. Just to be able to come home and give back to the city that gave me my start is incredible.

I grew up going to the Saenger as well. I think that's kind of the same story among all theatre lovers down here, so I'm really excited for you! Going on to talk about the show... I know you probably knew Jimmy Buffett's music just because you lived down here, but is that something you grew up really listening to?
Yeah! Well, definitely my parents... my dad's a huge Jimmy Buffett fan. I grew up with all of the New Orleans classics, too. I mean... it's that beachy sort of vibe, that rock and roll, that relaxed sort of life style of music that, yeah, it's been around for my entire life.

When I heard that this show was being made, I was... so I know his music, I've seen him at Jazz Fest several times, I love it... but it surprised me that a piece of musical theatre was being created out of his music. How does it translate into the theatre world?
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't surprised when I heard about it as well. But, what's really great about this show is that our writers, Greg Garcia and Mike O'Malley, have come together and put this script together, this story together, that really beautifully brings to life the sort of world that Jimmy has sort of set up not only in his music, but in his novels and things like that. Chris Ashley, who is our director, just won a Tony Award for Best Direction, has really tried to emphasize and bring to life this sort of relaxed beach lifestyle. The show has an amazing boy meets girl in paradise sort of classic story to it, but in the true Jimmy style, it's got this quirky sense of humor. We're throwing in a lot of easter eggs for the Parrotheads, and we're really trying to emphasize and get to the audiences who are hard-core Jimmy Buffett fans as well as hard-core theatre-goers. It's a really cool marriage of the two, and this whole world is set up and supported by those iconic songs that Jimmy wrote.

I know the music is so different, but I'm kind of getting that "Across the Universe" vibe where they took the music of The Beatles and created a story around it.
Yeah. It's more so the energy of the music that supports the story than just sort of shoehorning songs into a show.

So, what's the storyline? What is the show actually about?
This is a story about two best friends who go to an island looking for a weekend off and just kind of relax. They end up getting a little more than they expected out of the trip. There's comedy, there's romance, there's a really great sense in this show of celebrating the island lifestyle. You know... without giving away too much.

You are in the ensemble of this show, so what kind of cool things are you doing as part of this cast?
I am doing everything from being a beach-going visitor to the island... from that all the way to being a tap dancing zombie.

Oh my goodness!
Yeah, exactly, it's that sort of quirky... you never really know what to expect. Anything could happen in this show. It's full of surprises.

Did Jimmy have any input in the creation of the show?
He's been around, of course, on the music side, but really he's just kind of been there to oversee. It's really been taken care of and crafted by our writers and Chris and our choreographer, Kelly Devine.

What are some of your favorite moments in the show?
Honestly, the music arrangements are gorgeous. They're so much fun. I mean, it's really gonna feel more like a rock show... you know like a Jimmy Buffett concert... than a typical Broadway show. I love that. Our big production numbers are 'Cheeseburger in Paradise' and the songs you really want to hear. We open with a bang with 'License to Chill.' When it all comes together with these awesome songs and these beautiful arrangements and Kelly Devine's choreography, it's so exciting and so much fun for everybody involved.

So, this is the pre-Broadway run of this show, which is kind of interesting to me because we typically don't get tours until they've already been on Broadway. What's happening with the future of this show after the tour?
After the tour you're gonna see a couple of changes technically, our budget's gonna be a little bigger, so technically we're gonna grow a little bit. You're not gonna see huge differences, and really what we're trying to do is celebrate these markets in New Orleans, Houston, Chicago... these die-hard Jimmy Buffett markets, and sort of give them a peak at the show before we come into New York and land at home in the Marriott Marquis.

How do you project New York audiences or audiences who maybe don't know this music to take the show once it hits Broadway?
Well, you know what's really interesting? There's a much bigger Jimmy Buffett market up here than I really thought.

Yeah! There's a lot of people that would go see him down in the Keys... you know, the snowbirds and people that would travel down to see him who now just have to take a bus over to the Marquis and see this musical performed live. We're in a great location at the Marriott Marquis. I think that it's sort of selling itself out here.

This is not going to be your first time on a Broadway stage. Are you excited to go back and be in New York again and performing there?
Absolutely. Any time you get a chance to be on a Broadway stage it's magic. And, this show with this audience and the energy... you know, they had performances at La Jolla, and from what I understand it's just... it's not like anything else because people are so excited. People are so die-hard about this show. I couldn't be more excited.

Is the whole cast that we're going to see on tour the same cast that we'll see in New York?
Yep! Everybody that's coming out, you're going to see it be pretty much the exact same.

This is just kind of a fun question... if you could choose another artist to create a show out of his or her music, who would you want it to be?
Oohh! That is a great question! Oh wow. You put me on the spot with that one. You know, I'm a huge hip hop fan, and I would love to see like a Notorious B.I.G. thing happen. I would also love to see a Jimi Hendrix moment happen. Something like that... throw it back. Yeah, I think when you ask that sort of question there's so many possibilities especially with what you're seeing with HAMILTON and it's popularity. You can do sort of anything these days. Yeah, but those are the people that came to mind when you first asked. Queen would be amazing!

To wrap us up, sell the show to me. Why should audiences come see ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE?
People should come see the show because life is crazy right now. We've got disasters, our country is in a crazy place, and this show celebrates an island atmosphere and lets you get away from it all for two hours. It's got a beautiful sense of humor, it's got amazing choreography, this music is iconic, and there's just not going to be anything else like it on Broadway this season. I think it's got something for everybody.

I don't know about you, but as someone who grew up with this music AND with musical theatre, I am super pumped about ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE making an appearance in New Orleans this week. I have a feeling this is going to be one for the books, and is going to impress all you Parrotheads out there as well as all you theatre geeks. And, if you're both, it just may make you have you flying high for the rest of the week.

Throw those fins up and swim yourselves on down to the Saenger starting this Friday, October 20, to see ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE before the show heads to Broadway! Visit for tickets and more information.

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