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Review: ‘Escape to Margaritaville’ is a treat for Jimmy Buffett fans

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 22, 2020

Rachel Lyn Fobbs as Marley and Patrick Cogan as J.D. in Jimmy Buffett’s “Escape to Margaritaville.” (Matthew Murphy)
Rachel Lyn Fobbs as Marley and Patrick Cogan as J.D. in Jimmy Buffett’s “Escape to Margaritaville.” (Matthew Murphy)

The good news is that fans of Jimmy Buffett will find plenty to like in “Escape to Margaritaville,” the 2017 musical now running at the First Interstate Center for the Arts. There are plenty of favorite songs by the troubadour of the Caribbean.

“Margaritaville,” of course. And “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” There’s “Volcano,” “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” and “Why Don’t We Get Drunk.” That last one turned into an audience participation number as the crowd eagerly and loudly finished the line, “Why don’t we get drunk … AND SCREW!”

There are inside jokes aimed at the Parrotheads, although they aren’t subtle. I mean, one guy literally wanders around looking for his lost shaker of salt. Still, judging by the enthusiastic response of the Hawaiian-shirted attendees, it was all part of the laid-back island vibe for which Buffett is known.

For the non-Parrotheads, “Escape to Margaritaville” is a different experience, one that’s mostly pleasant in large part because the young and talented cast makes it so. The challenge of any jukebox musical is to offer something for the audience members who aren’t familiar with every song.

A show like “Jersey Boys,” about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, or “Beautiful” about Carole King, weaves the music into the show about the performers’ interesting lives. So even if you’ve never listened to “Tapestry” or couldn’t hum “Walk Like a Man,” there’s enough story there to maintain audience interest.

“Margaritaville” takes a different route. It doesn’t tell Jimmy Buffett’s story but one inspired by the stories he creates in his music. The result on Tuesday night was frothy and feather light. A beach bum singer-songwriter, Tully Mars (Chris Clark), is hanging out at the Margaritaville Resort, a rundown hotel on an unnamed Caribbean island.

His life consists of singing his songs and wooing one tourist after another, happily saying goodbye to each woman after her weeklong stay is up. At his side is his pal, Brick, a bartender who is kindhearted but not much of a ladies man. Into their lives comes two young women on a pre-wedding bachelorette getaway.

There’s Tammy, who is engaged to Chadd. Chadd (Noah Bridgestock) is a jerk who intentionally orders Tammy’s wedding dress a size too small to encourage her to lose weight before the wedding. He dictates her vacation diet – carrot juice and sunflower seeds – and gave her an engagement television in lieu of a ring.

Tammy’s friend Rachel hates Chadd – we all hate Chadd – and is happy to spend time with her pal before her wedding day. But she also has an ulterior motive: She needs a soil sample from the island’s volcano to hopefully help her create her big idea: a powerful energy source from a potato (I’m not making that up).

The serious, workaholic Rachel meets the beach bum Tully, and you can guess where this is leading. Joining in the frivolity is resident barfly J.D. (Patrick Cogan, the most-experienced actor in the cast) and the resort’s owner, Marley (Rachel Lyn Fobbs).

For all the cliches, there are fun and lovely moments. As Act I ends, Tully launches into an acoustic version of “Margaritaville.” Soon, a kettle drum chimes in, and the number swells to a large production. There’s a tap number involving the ghosts of dead insurance agents (also not making that up) that is surprisingly fun.

And there’s a lovely distillation of J.D.’s backstory in “He Went to Paris.” What ultimately saves “Escape to Margaritaville” is that it is utterly without pretense. The show is exactly what it sets out to be: a further extension of that laid-back, tequila-soaked Jimmy Buffett lifestyle.

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