When Jimmy Buffett stopped by opening night of the pre-Broadway musical “Escape To Margaritaville” in the heart of a Chicago November, he traded his flip-flops for tennis shoes and short sleeves for a jacket and scarf. But the moment he and the entire sold out audience stepped inside the tropically adorned Oriental Theatre, it certainly felt like summer, and by the end of the star-studded night, it may as well have been the fictional island that bares the show’s namesake.
With or without Buffett in the house, “Escape To Margaritaville” is a must for Parrotheads and also a chance for those who’ve yet to ever throw their “Fins” in the air a joyful chance to get in on the action.
That’s because the brand new production is framed around all the singer/songwriter’s most popular tunes that fall under the banner of “Boats, Beaches, Bars & Ballads,” alongside cheeky comedy, a cheerful set, eye-popping colors and festive feel. Much like “Mamma Mia!” is matched to the beats of ABBA, “Escape To Margaritaville” is a textbook jukebox musical that manages to merge the seemingly divergent worlds of Paul Alexander Nolan as Tully (naturally a musician and “Son Of A Sailor”) his sidekick Eric Petersen as Brick (a bartender quick to proclaim “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”) with bachelorette party pals Alison Luff as Rachel (a workaholic in desperate need of a “License To Chill”) and Lisa Howard as Tammy (who loves a good “Cheeseburger In Paradise”).
Those guys and girls’ paths probably wouldn’t have ever crossed had it not been for the steamy getaway spot, but after a whirlwind week of fun in the sun, the bonds they build run much deeper than a mutual love of booze. However, all great vacations must come to an end, and while the staff and guests fear they’ll never see each other again, a “Volcano” on the verge of erupting has an unusual way to bring them all back together.
Throughout all the zaniness, salt shakers are lost and found, beach balls bounce all around, a star is born and the love bug bites on numerous occasions, and while they incorporate all the signature elements of Buffett’s storied lyrics, a theatregoer’s awareness of his work isn’t necessary to understand or enjoy any moment. Then again, this is the soundtrack of Jimmy Buffett, and given so many of these selections have permeated the public’s collective consciousness for over 40 years, it’s practically impossible not to join in at some point during this ideal way to blast away the winter blues.
Having the man behind the music on hand for this special occasion certainly didn’t hurt, and a curtain call filled with several roaring ovations for the deserving cast surged to the next level when he led an encore culminating in the monster sing-a-long “Margaritaville.” With or without Buffett in the house, “Escape To Margaritaville” is a must for Parrotheads and also a chance for those who’ve yet to ever throw their “Fins” in the air a joyful chance to get in on the action.