BWW Review: ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE at Dr. Phillips Center Is Far from Paradise
I would never drink on the job, but at ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE, "pour me something tall and strong" is part of the mandate - and the show writers are clearly counting on tequila to carry them through.
Margaritaville is an island getaway where the drinks are strong, Jimmy Buffett is god, and every single inhabitant has exactly one personality trait.
It's definitely the cheeseburger version of paradise.
We meet Tully, a hunky, love-em-and-leave-em surfer dude who isn't smart like Rachel, the brainy science student on vacay... but at least he knows how to let loose.
Do you think Rachel could learn a thing or two from Tully? Do you think their differences might lead them to love? Only time and formula will tell.
But something about ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE did surprise me: it makes a more concerted effort than most jukebox musicals to justify its lyrics narratively. While it is ultimately nothing more than two hours of unrelated Jimmy Buffett songs stuffed into a story that exists solely to cash in on that catalog, writers Greg Garcia and Mike O'Malley do find clever ways to plant narrative seeds that will turn up in song lyrics later. Or maybe they only seemed clever to me because I am admittedly unacquainted with most of those songs and so didn't see the payoff coming a mile ahead.
I ran into a friend in the lobby who is both a Parrothead and a PhD. He made an impassioned case for Jimmy Buffett's artistic integrity, arguing persuasively that the catalog is deeper and richer than its lettuce-and-tomato flagship might imply. I believe him. But if there's more to Mr. Buffett than salt shakers and songs that sound the same, this show doesn't know it.
My friend must have agreed, because I don't think I saw him again after Act I.
That's the breezy half, where the light-and-uncomplicated proceedings have the airy likeability of an old Annette Funicello beach bash. I admit that, even as I thought to myself, "This isn't very good," I was having a good time - a testament to the good company I was keeping, the high spirits of those around me (one woman was dressed as a cheeseburger), and undoubtedly the Dr. Phillips' Center worth-the-money margarita (or "Paradise-rita," priced at $15 with a complimentary flavor shot of your choice).
Alas, the good times run flat by Act II, which leaves the island behind and belabors an already barely-there story. If ever there were a candidate for a one-act show, this is it. Cut a couple of songs and knock this thing out in 90 minutes, please, lest "it's 5:00 somewhere" have us all longing for the A.M. hour when the obvious ending will finally be behind us.
Having debuted on Broadway in 2017 to zero Tony nominations and zero wins, leaving Buffett just four awards away from an EGOT, ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE is now on tour with a non-Equity cast. The performances are capable across the board, though none stun you, nor does the material give them an opportunity to do so.
As Rachel's dorky but fun-loving friend Tammy, Shelly Lynn Walsh is funny and belts some of the brightest notes. Her chemistry with co-leads Peter Michael Jordan (who plays Brick, one of Tammy's dimwitted love interests) and Sarah Hinrichsen (Rachel) help to make the dull dialogue more believable than it ever could have been on paper. The show's choreography is lively, and the whole company handles it well. On opening night, Trent Soyster seemed especially dedicated to his duties on stage (lifting a suitcase with noticeable gusto during one particularly showy scene, elevating the proceedings), and Nico DiPrimio's dancing stood out in an ensemble of talented dancers (several people around me would say, "Oh he's back! He's back!" each time DiPrimio returned to the stage).
It's a cast that does its best in a show that doesn't try to, but if you're a longtime Parrothead and in it for an easy trip down Memory Lane, you'll find what you're looking for. Just find your way to the bar before the curtain goes up. Get tickets or subscribe to the new season at the official theatre website.
What do you think of ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE? Let me know on Twitter @AaronWallace.