Monday, March 26, 2018

Broadway Theater Review: Escape to Margaritaville

Lisa Howard, Alison Luff, Paul Alexander Nolan and Eric Petersen. Photo:Matthew Murphy
Escape to Margaritaville
Music and Lyrics By Jimmy Buffett 
Book By Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley 
Directed By Christopher Ashley 
Choreography By Kelly Devine

By Lauren Yarger

If you are a fan of Jimmy Buffet and find his songs entertaining, you'll enjoy the Broadway premiere of Escape to Margaritaville. If you aren't familiar with his songs and don't enjoy a few of the margaritas available at the theater bar before the curtain goes up, you probably will be thinking of ways to escape FROM Margaritaville.

The book by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley is a throwback to the early days of the jukebox musical, where a very weak plot is used to string together a bunch of songs. Here, lyrics from Buffet songs like "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere," "Son of a Son of a Sailor," "Cheeseburger in Paradise," "Why Don't We Get Drunk?" and the title tune, among others, are brought front and center in a ridiculous plot. 

A miscast Paul Alexander Nolan is Tully, a womanizing bar singer taking advantage of a string of women visiting Margaritaville, a resort somewhere in the Caribbean. The place is run by native Marley (Rema Webb) and frequented by an eye-patch-wearing, drunk pilot named J.D. (Don Sparks), who reportedly buried treasure somewhere on the island and who has an obsession with people moving his salt shaker (thus giving some meaning to the lyric "looking for my lost shaker of salt in "Margaritaville" -- if you actually want to go so far as to say there is meaning in anything in this musical).

Tully changes his tune, however, when he meets scientist Rachel (Alison Luff), visiting the island to collect soil to power her potato-powered invention which apparently will provide clean energy and save the planet. Yes, you read that correctly. Suddenly Tully is ready to commit, but Rachel's mind is focused on her work.

She is accompanied by Tammy (Lisa Howard), who wants to sow some wild oats before tying the knot with Chadd (Ian Michael Stuart). Chad has taken a few minutes to get up off the couch where he spends most of his time watching hockey matches to make a phone call and change the size of Tammy's wedding dress to a smaller fit to encourage his fiancée to lose some weight. He also puts her on a diet of carrot juice and seeds.

In this #metoo culture, we are expected to be OK with a woman going along with this and defending the guy because he deserves a chance (while Chadd is no super-fit model himself. Just saying...) Speaking of chances, Tammy confides, Chadd may be her only one at marriage, so she feels like she has to put up with a lot because, you know a girl has to settle rather than end up alone. . . but wait, she might just have a better chance with Tully's friend,  Brick (Eric Peterson), who we are supposed to feel good about because he doesn't seem to mind that Tammy is a bit chubby and likes her jokes, which aren't funny. Actually, jokes not delivered by Tammy -- some putting down women -- just aren't funny at all and we get a sense that the writers are trying to stick Tammy with the blame for the lame attempts at humor.

Good advice for the soon-to-be bride is not forthcoming from best friend Rachel, however, who before the show is over, comes to find that being uptight and focusing on her career isn't the way to go -- that happiness comes from loosening up, having sex and eventually marrying. 

OK, I don't drink, but will someone please pass me a margarita? Or a few?

Beyond giving my sense of morals a nervous breakdown (lying is good, cheating is good, false advertising is OK, getting drunk is great, anonymous sex is desirable -- remember lyrics like "Why Don't We Just Get Drunk and Screw" are part of the party atmosphere here-- ), the show gave me motion sickness as well. Every mode of travel seems to be depicted. Just because they can. Are the women flying from Ohio? Let's have a scene on a plane. Taking a boat? Hopping in a car? How about two more planes -- one with first class seating just to be different? All of them are in there. Walt Spangler is the overworked set designer who also creates an island motif that extends like volcano lava into the theater's house.

Because some random lyrics don't make a complete story -- or a full Broadway musical -- the writers and creatives are forced to pull some tricks out of a bag. Brick believes a story that a group of people once were buried underneath the lava ash from the island's last volcanic eruption.  They must give the ensemble (and Choreographer Kelly Devine) something to do, it seems, so the group becomes ghosts of the lost souls. Later, when the story is  proven to be myth, the dialogue could go something like this:
"We already have all of these dancers on stage, so we are now going to have them do a big show-stopping number with costumes that change into something more suited for 42nd Street than this musical because we don't want to waste the talents of Costume Designer Paul Tazewell). We're just going to do this and hope you don't notice that we have lost all hope of presenting a cohesive musical."

The same comments about wasting talent could be said of Director Christopher Ashley (Come From Away), who is unable to pull the insipid fragments together, and Flying by Foy, used to create people swimming above the action at one point, then to fly a  hungry Tammy over to a plate piled with cheeseburgers ("Cheeseburger in Paradise"). I found the only the only positive note I had scribbled during the show came at this point in the production: "At least we don't have dancing cheeseburgers now." I fully expected a chorus line of gold-lame-clad, high-kicking burgers to appear.

J.D. is looking for his lost shaker of salt and non Jimmy Buffet fans are looking for another drink during the very long-feeling two-hour-15 minute production at the Marquis Theatre, 210 West 46th St., NYC. Performances times vary.

Additional cast:
Andre Ward, Matt Allen, Tessa Alves, Sara Andreas, Tiffany Adeline Cole, Marjorie Failoni, Samantha Farrow, Steven Good, Angela Grovey, Albert Guerzon, Keely Hutton, Justin Keats, Mike Millan, Justin Mortelliti, Ryann Redmond, Jennifer Rias, Julius Anthony Rubio, Nick Sanchez, Ian Michael Stuart, and Brett Thiele.

Additional credits:
Howell Binkley (Lighting Designer), Brian Ronan (Sound Designer), Leah J. Loukas (Wigs, Hair, and Makeup Design), Michael Utley (Orchestrations), Christopher Jahnke (Music Supervisor), 

The Original Broadway Cast Recording of the new musical Escape to Margaritaville, featuring both original songs along with many of Buffett’s classics, is now available both digitally and on CD. 

-- Theater warns the production is suitable for ages 10 and up
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Sexual dialogue
-- A lucky native charm

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York. Shifting from reviewing to producing, Yarger owns Gracewell Productions, which produced the Table Reading Series at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, CT. She trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run. She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She wrote reviews of Broadway and Off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She was a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice president and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (producer of the annual awards ceremony) and a member of The League of Professional Theatre Women, serving as Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter. Yarger was a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2024 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women or people of a certain race are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide, or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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