Staring at a blank screen for at least twenty minutes, I was finally able to articulate my thoughts in a manner that would be supportive of the musical monsoon I just escaped. The truth is, even two drinks in, Jimmy Buffett’s® Escape to Margaritaville now playing at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa is less a tropical paradise and more a tragic typhoon.
Ordinarily, a jukebox musical is––at the very least––a hand snapping, head bobbing, trip down memory lane. To be fair, aside from “Margaritaville” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise”, I know very little of Mr. Buffett’s music. Still, I can’t help thinking, if Twyla Tharp could conceive, direct, and choreograph a successful musical using only the songs of Billy Joel, shouldn’t a musical based on the music of a man with a devoted group of fans (affectionately known as “Parrotheads”) be a Bahama Breeze? In a word, the show is: lazy. Not in that, “I’m on an island; commence vacation mode!”, kind of way. Around the time that the cast started singing, “It’s Five O’ Clock Somewhere”, I thought to myself, “I wish I was there.” That was approximately ten minutes into the show.
The book by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley has more clichés and predictable puns than this review has trite references to Caribbean cruise culture and alliteration. I counted––two of the jokes landed with the (mostly senior) audience. Perhaps not entirely the fault of the writers, someone might want to help director Amy Anders Corcoran communicate how to deliver a comedic beat to the actors. The storyline is as basic as my summary: Two friends, Rachel (Sarah Hinrichsen) and Tammy (Shelly Lynn Walsh) head to a tropical island on a bachelorette getaway. Naturally, both girls fall head-over-heels for hunky guitar slinging Tully (Chris Clark) and bozo bartender Brick (Peter Michael Jordan). It’s a good thing for Tammy, too, because the only thing waiting for her back home is her misogynistic fiancé Chadd (Noah Bridgestock). When the five-day island dream ends, like they all do, the pair head back to reality, in this case Cincinnati. Suddenly, the volcano (that hasn’t been active since 1960-something) threatens to erupt. Thankfully, Tully and Brick escape on J.D.’s (Patrick Cogan) plane and head to––you guessed it! . . . Cincinnati. I could tell you how it ends, but I don’t want to ruin it for you. Okay, fine! Tammy dumps the diet dictator Chadd and marries Brick. Tully becomes a rock star and (YEP) marries environmental scientist Rachel. Mixed (inorganically) into this 70s sitcom are twenty-five of Buffett’s songs.
This show missed the boat in nearly every way. The set design by Walt Spangler was soggy and sparse. The lighting design by Howell Binkley was humdrum, missing the intoxication of a romantic sunset in the middle of an ocean. The costumes by Tony® and Emmy® Award winning designer, Paul Tazewell were exactly what you’d expect when drinking on an island: resort wear. Thankfully, this included swimsuits! Trust me, everyone in the audience was pleased with the absolutely flawless physiques. Most calamitous was the lack of soul in the music. Music Supervisor, Christopher Jahnke missed an opportunity to capitalize on the catchy, charismatic composition and lyrics that made Jimmy Buffett an island icon. Yes, there were steel drums, but the orchestra was lost upstage and out of the spotlight.
Between the barely-there sets and the elementary book, director Amy Anders Corcoran had her work cut out for her. Often, it felt like the actors were pacing back and forth on islands of their own. It was clear that this cast was talented. Sadly, their performances came off disconnected, shallow, and lacking layers. Shoutouts to Shelly Lyn Walsh and Peter Michael Jordan for carving out a comedic connection despite the silly storyline and unsalted staging.
The only redeeming moments came when the scantily clad ensemble burst into seaside song and dance. The choreography by Kelly Devine was fun, festive, and loaded with lifts and layered accents. She would be proud of her associate choreographer, Andrew Turteltaub and Dance Captain, Aimee Lane for keeping the cast tight and energetic, in an otherwise sleepy show.
I was sitting in the theater thinking to myself, “This show would be perfect for a lounge on a three-day cruise to the Caribbean.” My intuition was perfectly coordinated when J.D. breaks the fourth wall and leads the audience in a sing-along. “Why don’t we get drunk and . . .” If you’re excited about finishing this phrase––grab your flip-flops and sunblock––this is a show for you! Jimmy Buffett’s® Escape to Margaritaville is running through February 9, 2020 at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
Written by Matthew Shaffer for LA Dance Chronicle, February 6, 2020.
For more information and tickets, click here.
Featured image: The National Touring Company of Jimmy Buffett’s ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE – Photo by Matthew Murphy