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A CurtainUp Review
Escape to Margaritaville
With a book by Greg Garcia and Mike O'Malley, and direction by Christopher Ashley, it's bent on transporting you from where you are, to where you dream to be.
Parrotheads (disciples of Buffett) will have the opportunity to listen to Buffett's classics and some original songs. For newbies, it's a baptism into the cheerful ethos of Margaritaville, where it's always five o'clock somewhere, with blenders humming and shrimp sizzlin' on the grill.
Set in the Caribbean and Ohio, the story centers on a Don Juan-ish guy named Tully Mars (Paul Alexander Nolan) who's the entertainer-in-residence at the beach resort named Margaritaville. When a serious-minded scientist named Rachel (Alison Luff) arrives at the resort Tully falls heads over heels for her and you get a salty new spin on the boy-meets-girl plot here. Tully tries to persuade Rachel that his love matters more than her scientific project that involves generating energy from, of all things, a potato.
Then there's the bartender Brick (Eric Petersen) who flirts with the engaged Tammy, and tries to make her forget that she's wearing an engagement ring. More conflict enters when the island's volcano starts to smoulder and threatens to erupt.
If the story sounds corny, it is. But the cliche gains oomph, thanks to the terrific cast. Led by Paul Alexander Nolan as the stand-in for Buffett and Alison Luff as the love-interest, they are enthusiastically supported by an ensemble if heat-warped characters in the Caribbean.
What makes this piece hum, of course, are the songs spiced with island magic. Everybody knows the wistful "Margaritaville," but there are other ballads that carry the Buffett stamp. There's the happy-hour anthem "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere," "Coconut Telegraph" that breezily describes how gossip travels on the island, and the very romantic "Three Chords" that sparks love between Tully and Rachel. True, the song "Why Don't We Get Drunk" is tasteless. But aside from this clunker, all of the sand-between-your-toes songs sprinkled throughout the show are fun.
Standout performances? No question that Nolan and Luff are the aces here. Not only are they both triple-threats, but they exude that elusive thing called "good chemistry" on stage. And Nolan does play the guitar extraordinarily well.
The ensemble members also help to keep the tropical vibes alive. Don Sparks' J.D. is the epitome of an aging beach-bum who has discovered that his Bohemian life is "part magic, part tragic." Lisa Howard and Eric Petersen, as Tammy and Brick, become less ridiculous and more likable as the story unspools. Rema Webb is sassy as can be as the hotel proprietor Marley who keeps a good eye on the tourists and islanders alike.
Merit badges should be extended to the creative team. Walt Spangler's multiple sets, in collaboration with Howard Binkley's lighting, colorfully conjure up a Caribbean beach resort and beyond.
Kelly Devine's choreography accentss the fluctuating rhythm and beat of the musical numbers with a mix of modern and traditional dance numbers, along with a soulful line dance that harks back the 70s. Paul Tazewell's costumes are an eclectic mix of floral-styled shirts, faded jeans, exotic beach wear, and of course some fur-hooded parkas for all going to-and-fro Cincinnati, Ohio.
No question that the ideal audience for the show is Parrotheads, and perhaps their parakeets who might be wondering what their parents see in this singer-songwriter-author born in Pascagoula, Mississippi and raised in Mobile, Alabama. But then anybody who wonders about the Buffett sound, and would like a blissful taste of Paradise for a couple of hours, this Margaritaville is where to start.
It's easy to disparage this feel-good show as a Buffett commercial or wannabe heir to Mama Mia. But listen closer to the lyrics of "Tin Cup Chalice" and "Somethin' Bout a Boat" and you will discover that this musical sings with a distinct Mark Twain-ish flavor to it, so it's easy to understand why Jimmy Buffet often quotes from Twain's works and has actually been dubbed the "Mark Twain of southern music."
The show ends with a finale thats a tad gimmicky but great fun with its tsunami of beach balls flooding the theater. It sends quite a few lucky theatergoers home with a real piece of Margaritaville in hand.
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Escape to Margaritaville
Book by Greg Garcia and Mike O'Malley.
Directed by Christopher Ashley
Choreographed by Kelly Devine
Cast: Paul Alexander Nolan (stars), Alison Luff as Rachel and Lisa Howard as Tammy, Charlie Pollock as Brick, Don Sparks as J.D., Andre Ward as Jamal, Rema Webb as Marley. Scenic Designer: Walt Spangler
Costume Designer: Paul Tazewell
Lighting Designer: Howell Binkley
Sound Designer: Brian Ronan.
Wigs, Hair, and Makeup Design:Leah J. Loukas
Flying Effects: Flying By Foy
Orchestrations: Michael Utley
Stage Manager: Kim Versace.
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes
Marquis Theatre, Broadway & 45th Street
From 2/16/18; opening 3/15/18
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan at 3/21 press performance
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