Which brings me to Escape to Margaritaville, the new jukebox musical at the Marquis Theatre. It is also a silly, empty-headed, yet entertaining musical tethered to the well-known songs of Jimmy Buffett, a fact which means it will probably run quite a while just on the strength of the Buffett fans—otherwise known as Parrot Heads.
The slick book by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley takes the audience to a down-in-the-mouth Caribbean island resort run by Marley (a sassy, juicy Reba Webb). Her social director is the handsome Tully (Paul Alexander Nolan, blessed with good looks and a terrific voice) whose main job is to romance the ladies in addition to pushing drinks and singing with the on stage band. For the record, Tully Mars is a character who first appeared in Buffet’s short story collection, Tales from Margaritaville and again as the hero of his novel, A Salty Piece of Land..
Environmental scientist Rachel (Alison Luff, managing to find whatever depth the script will allow) persuades her soon to be married friend Tammy (Lisa Howard, a powerhouse comedienne and singer) to join her in a pre-wedding jaunt which results in the expected letting loose and learning the “real meaning” of life which, according to Margaritaville is drinking and having sex.
Rachel, however, has other things on her mind. She wants to collect mineral samples for her potato energy project (!), a plot twist that brings the leads to the island’s long-dormant volcano which, of course, erupts just in time for the intermission.
Of course, Rachel finds love with the good-looking beach bum, Tully who finds unexpected success as a pop singer. Of course Tammy finds love with Tully’s pal, the lovable lug Brick (Eric Petersen, who finds all the charm in this cartoonish character). And, of course Marley finds love with the shabby resort’s lovable old philosopher-in-residence, J.D. (Don Sparks, who adds much-needed gravity to the show).
The ups and downs of the road to true romance provide the show with its ties to the Buffett songs. Tully opens the show with “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Boat,” to show his romantic nature and “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” to reveal his easygoing philosophy of life. Similarly, Rachel offers her story in “It’s My Job,” and romance blossoms when she sings “Three Chords” (the new Jimmy Buffet song) with Tully as he teaches her to play the guitar.
Tammy begins to fall for Brick with their sardonic “We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us About” and cements their love with “Come Monday.”
Of course, there is the title song “Margaritaville,” Buffett’s biggest hit. The songs are written in various styles ranging from pop to calypso to reggae and are meant to incite the audience to sing along which they are sometimes actually prompted to do.
Garcia and O’Malley try hard to breathe life into their shopworn plot and do achieve some good wisecracks and witticisms, but are ultimately defeated by the need to shoehorn the songs into the plot. Both the songs and the scenario suffer.
Kelly Devine’s choreography reaches its peak in a number staged in a Cincinnati bar where Tammy finally realizes that she cannot marry her fiancé Chadd (Ian Michael Stuart). Otherwise the steps dutifully follow the music and are performed by a nimble-bodied cast.
Christopher Ashley’s direction cannot overcome a major problem with the show. The actors playing Tully and Rachel have almost no chemistry even though they both perform with passion and energy. The two other couples are both believable.
Walt Spangler’s sets, Paul Tazewell’s costumes and Howell Binkley’s lighting keep the Caribbean atmosphere alive and provide spirited support to the show.
Escape to Margaritaville (open run)
Marquis Theatre, 210 West 46th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 877-250-2929 or visit http://www.Ticketmaster.com
Running time: two hours and 30 minutes including one intermission