Escape From Margaritaville Washes Ashore and Wastes Away
By CB Adams
Escape From Margaritaville is not your typical musical theater experience. In fact, one deigns to even dub it a “musical.” It’s more party than performance.
That’s because to receive the full benefit of buying a ticket – and for the show to reach its limited potential – requires the audience to fully engage – that is to actually participate – in its Parrot-headed premise.
Escape From Margaritaville hails from the Jimmy Buffet industrial complex and is an island-flavored entertainment with as much realism as a cheesy travel brochure. The show snorkeled into town at The Fabulous Fox on October 18-20.
Riding in the wake of other successful, so-called jukebox musicals, Margartaville is conspicuously designed to ride in on the high tide of box office success of other productions of this ilk, namely Mama Mia! and Rock of Ages.
These successful shows provided the recipe-cum-template for Margaritaville, which tosses Buffet’s beguiling country-western-in-a-Hawaiian-shirt tunage and Will Rogers-ish, aw-shucks humor into a blender with a tropish, silly “boy meets then loses girl” plot, trying to render a frozen concoction that hopes to help the audience hang onto their ticket stubs for a breezy couple of hours.
But instead of landing an expected sharknado of sing-along shenanigans, Friday night’s performance reeled in gasping guppies. The reason why was not the bait. Who doesn’t love Buffet’s easy, languid, catchy, comfortable-as-your-favorite flip-flops songs such as “Volcano,” “Fins,” “Come Monday,” “Son of a Son of a Sailor” and the title song? It’s nearly impossible not to like these fan faves, just ask thousands – if not millions – of Parrot Heads the world over.
Nor was the show’s failure to launch due to the aforementioned plot, which surely does not require one to suspend very much disbelief. After all, the show’s tagline says it all: “Set Your Mind on Island Time.” That should be easy to do, given Buffet promotion of a fiddle-dee-dee, “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw?” mindset.
But the dialogue was predictable, flavorless and seemed like it was borrowed from a second-rate sitcom, which is a shame since it came from Emmy-winner Greg Garcia (My Name is Earl, Family Matters and Family Guy) and Mike O’Malley (the award-winning Survivor’s Remorse).
The plot tortuously bends to accommodate the story of two women from Cincinnati on a bachelorette binge. Rachel, the lead, played by Sarah Hinrichsen, is a type A scientist whose friend, Rachel, played by Shelly Lynn Walsh, is soon to be married to the bro-y, doltish Chadd, broadly played by Noah Bridgestock with thankfully short stage time.
The women predictably become entwined with islanders Tully, the other lead played by Chris Clark, and Brick, played by Peter Michael Jordan. Of all the performances on Friday night, Jordan’s was the only lively stand-out – and that’s not damning the performance with faint praise. He practically carried the show, especially during the campy tap number in the second act. Even the horny ole codger, J.D., played by Patrick Cogan, needed an extra shot of Ron Rico (or another “little blue pill”) at this performance.
All of the shortcomings of Escape From Margaritaville could have been overcome with a more enthusiastic and fully engaged audience. The producers tried to turn the show into an event with free leis at the entrance, a precious few moments when the actors broke the fourth wall, and a boatload of beachballs released during the final number. But the audience response was lackluster. It needed more die-hard, fully plumed Parrot Heads or at least more attendees who were willing to abandon their self-reserve in favor of the show’s charms for a couple of hours.
That, and unlike Rock of Ages, which packed a decade’s worth of 80s big-haired rockers, Escape to Margaritaville needed more – much more – of Buffet’s appealing, easy-on-the-ears-and-mind tunes. Good times need good tunes, and these felt in short supply in this show, leaving some at the exits, escaping from Margartaville.
The Fabulous Fox Theatre presented “Escape from Margaritaville” October 18-20.