Theatre review: Escape to Margaritaville



Wednesday night I was privileged to attend the press opening for the new Jimmy Buffett musical, “Escape to Margaritaville” at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago. It was a total hoot.

I’d been wondering how they were going to use Buffett’s existing songs in the story, and even more curious about new songs he’s written for the show.

I got totally sucked in. Of course, it’s mid-November in Chicago, when every day that it doesn’t snow we dance naked in the streets. A play set on an island where there’s one boat a week and you’re stuck with frosty rum drinks, sand, sun, and a lot of lovely scenery? Sign me up. I was a huge fan of Charlie’s Angels back in the day, because Hawaii.

There are three couples, which always tickles my romcom farce craving:

The resort owner, an older woman who turned her beachfront bar into a hotel because “people were sleeping here anyway, they might as well pay,” and her oldest regular barfly

An uptight soil scientist doing research on volcanic soil for her eco-friendly research project and the slacker who plays guitar and sings in the resort bar

A decidedly saftig bride-to-be, best friends with the soil scientist, enjoying a prolonged bachelorette party, and the resort bartender who reluctantly steals her heart

If air time means anything, the focus is supposed to be on the hot guitar slacker and the uptight soil scientist, but in my opinion the bride steals the show. Her fiance, by no means svelte himself, has the brass balls to order her wedding dress a size too small, “so that you’ll be motivated to be all you can be on our big day.” The bride goes quickly from starving herself on three ounces of carrot juice and twenty sunflower seeds every four hours to morning umbrella drinks and tropical pleasures. She also finds the bartender tempting. He’s just as slack as his guitar-playing buddy but draws the line at bedding the bride before her wedding to another. The bride is way too much fun to be engaged to that dope. We all cheered every time she went to the bad.

Anyway, plotty plot plot, silly numbers where the story is woven hilariously into the weirdest lines of classic Buffett lyrics, an active volcano and the forty-three zombie insurance salesmen who didn’t run fast enough last time it erupted, and a nicely diverse supporting cast and chorus. I especially love that the bride is not the only plus-size woman on the stage.

In fact, in its slack, umbrella-drink-holding way, Margaritaville is body-image-positive, feminist, and egalitarian in its relationship developments. For you romance readers, the romance values are adult-level, in spite of the Parrothead themes. All the character arcs have twists I didn’t see coming. (As well as a few I did. Spoiler alert: the bride is seduced, no surprise . . . but via cheeseburger.)

This is a “production” show, meaning, the world premiere of the musical. You only have until December 2 to see it on this run, after which it will close in Chicago and simmer awhile before you can see it in New York in mid-February. I predict a long and happy tour life for “Escape to Margaritaville” as well.

“Escape to Margaritaville”
Music and lyrics by Jimmy Buffett
Original story by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley
Directed by Christopher Ashley
Oriental Theatre
24 W Randolph Street, Chicago IL
(312) 977-1700
Box office online


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