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Photos: Matthew Murphy
Photos: Matthew Murphy
Paul Alexander Nolan and the original Broadway cast of Escape to Margaritaville

BY ELYSE TREVERS

If Broadway musicals were rated the way movies are, “Escape to Margaritaville,” the jukebox musical crafted around Jimmy Buffett songs, would be rated R. It features lots of beautiful beach bodies, lots and lots of drinking (in the audience as well as on stage) and an emphasis on meaningless sexual hook-ups.

The hero of the story, Tully (attractive Paul Alexander Nolan) the Buffett-figure, is all about casual relationships. His mantra is exemplified in the song “Breathe In, Breathe Out Move On.”  

Everyone on the beach keeps drinking, no matter the time of day or night.  (“It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere.”) Drinks are plentiful in the theater as well (despite hefty prices of $14 for a regular margarita, $16 for a frozen one.)  And after a few of those margaritas, some folks in the audience really loosened up and got into the casual spirit of the island, singing along. In fact, the show counts on that, with everyone joining in on “Honey, why don’t we get drunk”, and, the audience sang  “and screw.”

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The musical, directed by Christopher Ashley with lively choreography by Kelly Devine, is colorful and upbeat.  There’s nothing here that’s serious and depressing. Even when the heroine, Rachel, (Alison Luff) turns down Tully’s proposal of a serious relationship, he is approached by an music agent and launches on a successful singing career.  No time to be upset.

The book by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley is weak and clichéd, but quite frankly, it is only a device to get to the songs. The dialogue sets up the songs to make them fit the story. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t.  So there are catch phrases that will be sung later on. JD, a 76-year-old beach bum who keeps trying to get Marly, (Rema Webb) into bed with him, roams around, asking for his “shaker of salt.” Later the two male leads, Tully and Brick, upset at their girlfriends’ leaving, feel pains in their stomachs. Is it hunger?  Oh, here’s a piece of sponge cake to eat. (If you know the lyrics, you know “Margaritaville” is coming.)

I don’t know all of Buffett’s music but I heard several familiar pieces and those new to me were quite pleasant and often clever, many suggesting his nomadic, aimless carefree lifestyle.

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The story line often borders on trivial, with some inane moments like Brick’s dance number. There’s a volcano waiting to erupt when Brick (talented Eric Petersen) imagines victims of a prior disaster, the ghosts of insurance salespeople, and he does a big tap dance number with them. The number made me feel like I, like Brick, was having a flashback.

Spoiler alert – all three couples eventually hookup and even marry.  Chubby Tammy, (the always wonderful Lisa Howard) Rachel’s best friend, is rescued from her controlling fiancé by Brick who thinks she’s perfect as she is. This gives them a chance to sing a rousing version of “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” Even JD and Marly marry and have a child.

If you wanted introspective, brilliantly written and acted theater, you should get tickets for “Angels in America.”  But most in the Marquis Theatre knew exactly why they were there and they were delighted. The show is made for fans of Buffett or those who want a light, airy diversion. That’s what you get with “Escape to Margaritaville” and there’s nothing wrong with it.

Your reaction to the show depends on why you go to the theater.  But in perspective, “Escape to Margaritaville” has no pretensions. It says exactly what it is – right in the title.

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