Last night, I attended the first opening preview of Escape to Margaritaville. The first thing I can say is that La Jolla, CA is a lovely city to kick-off this production. The sweeping ocean views, the surf, the food, and all those Parrotheads covered in Hawaiian prints! The La Jolla Playhouse is perfectly quaint for the show and did an excellent job of bringing that concert tailgating flare we all know and love right to their front door. There's also not a bad seat in the place!
Now on with the show!
The originating story is what you might expect. Folks flocking from their wintery cold-weathered lives to the warmth of an exotic Caribbean island for a bit of an escape from reality. Tourists in. Tourists out. And the show begins with meeting the locals of Margaritaville. Tully, played by Paul Alexander Nolan, is the resident guitar-playing, lounge-singing, Gulf Shore-mouthed, playboy. His best friend and bartender, Brick (Charlie Pollock) is a lovable yet somewhat dimwitted fellow...perfect sidekick. J.D., played by Don Sparks, is really a hidden gem within the set of characters. I couldn't help but think this is the character Jimmy himself resonates with the most, even more so than Tully. J.D. is the oldest resident on Margaritaville, full of stories, one-liners, and wisdom. Other Margaritaville inhabitants include Marley (Rema Webb), the gossipy female resort manager and secret love interest of J.D.; and there is also Jamal (Andre Ward), a waiter and keen observer of island happenings.
While the regulars at Margaritaville are exercising their License to Chill on the island, Rachel (Alison Luff) is helping her friend Tammy (Lisa Howard) prepare for her upcoming wedding to her hockey-loving, chauvinistic, bonehead, high-school sweetheart. Rachel, despite being the phone-addicted workaholic, is taking Tammy away from Cincinatti, 5 hours on a plane, to Margaritaville where they fully expect to encounter the land sharks they've been warned of.
The rest of Act One is fairly predictable, but entertaining. Tully pursues and challenges the work-obsessed, cell signal-searching, Rachel. And Tammy is flirting and boozing away her final days with Brick before heading back to her wedding. Along the way though are some classic musical moments including some of our most favorite Parrothead songs, such as Ragtop Day, We are the People Our Parents Warned Us About, and Son of a Sailor. There's some new lyrics and twists thrown into these older songs, so I advise attendees to follow theater etiquette and to not sing along like you're at a concert. Trust me, there's sing-a-long time later! There's also two new songs, Three Chords and Big World, Little World.
Act One had some memorable moments that were a hit with myself and the audience. Most moments were written into the actual dialogue such as, "Sometimes therapy is just a zipper away." But, the best moment was when they used a member from the audience for the Why Don't We Get Drunk bit. This was clearly not scripted and was hilarious as a result. The older woman from the audience was escorted to the stage as supposedly another tourist in Margaritaville. She was asked her name, and she responded, "Do I have to give you my name?" The crowd laughed. J.D. asked if she might be there with someone other than her husband. She said, "Yes!" The crowd erupted with belly laughs. Then, she was supposed to sing the "Screw" part of the song, but bless this lady's heart, she refused. Twice. Then added that the man she was attending with was actually her grandson! More belly laughs! Finally, on the last try, after a sip of a boat drink, she was able to shout "screw!" much to everyone's enjoyment. This bit is a must keep for the show just for the uncertainty of it all.
Moving into Act Two, Rachel and Tammy returned to their normal lives back in Cincy after a week of Changes in Latitudes/Changes in Attitudes, but Tully found himself realizing he is truly in love with Rachel. Volcano is the opening song to this act, because the one on the island is about to blow, and while there are many places the locals could flee to, the one place that was clear they didn't want to land was Mar-A-Lago! That's a keeper! Now I won't spoil what happens, but Act Two has a La La Land-like feel to it, but better, and with a happier ending. The one element that carried throughout both acts, and what I really appreciate about this show, is the message of strong women. Rachel and Tammy are really the stars. Rachel not giving up on her ambitions and dreams at the immediate sign of attention from a handsome, charismatic man. And Tammy, for being proud of who she is--A Cheeseburger In Paradise.
The other highlight worth mentioning: The zombie insurance salesmen. It seemed like a stretch within the story, but they are a really fun component to the show. Essentially, Brick is the only person who can see the zombie ghosts of the 43 insurance salesmen who were killed on the island the last time the volcano erupted. Picture their role like an episode of The Walking Parrotheads (someone should really spoof that for Jimmy's new retirement home chain) meets Michael Jackson's, Thriller. The choreography and costumes/makeup were spectacular!
Overall, as a Parrothead, this is a must-see musical! Although, I'm not sure how well it will resonate beyond Jimmy's fans who have enough lyrical context to get all of the inside-jokes and sly references because there a lot of those! The producers will have to make sure to have Parrothead translators on-hand when this heads to NYC. Otherwise, all of the elements for a potential hit on Broadway are there. Good music? Check! It was like his songs were written with a musical in mind all along. Good story? Check! I found myself teary-eyed at moments seeing Jimmy's lyrics come to life this way. Good humor and just enough irreverence? Check! Good cast? No, they were more than good! They are great! The singing, the dancing, the comedic delivery was all there!
Now, time to buy tickets for another night! Phins up!