REVIEW: "Escape to Margaritaville" at La Jolla Playhouse

Escape to Margaritaville Headed to Broadway

La Jolla Playhouse "Escape to Margaritaville"

Photos by Matthew Murray

Looking for an escape from San Diego's warm sunshine rays? No? Well, how about a mini island vacation, just in time for summer? Though the La Jolla Playhouse's newest production Escape to Margaritaville takes place in the dead of winter, this world-premiere musical is an entertaining beach party with a twinge of heart.

The story centers around type-A environmental researcher Rachel (Alison Luff), who takes her best friend Tammy (Lisa Howard) on a bachelorette party island vacation. Overworked and lacking balance, Rachel can't seem to relax... until she meets hotel lounge singer and guitarist Tully (Paul Alexander Nolan). Their friendship on the island––and the wacky, spring break-esque antics of the other guests and inhabitants––is set to nearly two dozen songs by the Margaritaville Master himself, Jimmy Buffett.

The full cast is on point throughout the production, eliciting laughter and capturing the attention of the entire audience. Lisa Howard stands out as the relatable and humorous Tammy, while Don Sparks is the cranky, forgetful JD. Rema Webb plays the loud owner of the hotel Marley, while Andre Ward is her dishwasher, busboy, and overall assistant, Jamal. Nolan proves himself to be a deft guitar player, while Tully's friend Brick (Charlie Pollock) is a likable dolt.

The book, which includes quick witticisms and Buffett in-jokes, is written by Greg Garcia and Mike O'Malley. The production takes some of Buffett's top classic songs and weaves them into their island tale, leaving the audience with a sometimes sidesplitting, sometimes romantic narrative. The production is directed by longtime La Jolla Playhouse favorite Christopher Ashley, and it includes stunning choreography with seamless transitions by Kelly Devine.

La Jolla Playhouse

While Escape to Margaritaville is a fun, frothy tale, it suffers most from an identity crisis: is it a serious tale of romance and personal development between Rachel and Tully? Or is it a hokey, comedic tale meant to make the audience laugh and squeal at the ludicrous ways some of Buffett's outlandish songs are shoehorned into the plot? The play tries to sit smack-dab in the middle of the road, though it would benefit from picking a lane. As Escape to Margaritaville sits, the emotional moments feel a little hollow when paired with throwaway lines about how Jamal's feet stink (to, naturally, lead into "My Head Hurts, My Feet Stink, and I Don't Love Jesus"). Likewise, those throwaway comments and minute details in the script are lighthearted puzzle pieces for the audience to grasp and see how Buffett's songs fit in the play, but there aren't enough puzzle pieces to see a full picture.

But like a margarita, take what I've said with a grain(or a rim) of salt––ultimately, the La Jolla Playhouse production is a carefree way to lose yourself in theater and Buffett bliss for two hours.

With a band performing Jimmy Buffett's songs live––sometimes even on stage, the set designed by Walt Spangler––this musical has audiences singing along to Buffett tunes such as "Why Don't We Get Drunk" and "Margaritaville." The warm weather-friendly costumes were designed by Paul Tazewell, while the hair and makeup were styled by Leah J Loukas.

La Jolla Playhouse

Escape to Margaritaville runs at the La Jolla Playhouse through July 9th. From there, the production will tour the country (including in New Orleans, Houston, and Chicago) before opening on Broadway in early 2018. The show will begin previews in New York on February 16th, and it will open at the Manhattan’s Marquis Theatre on March 15th. For more information on the 2018 Broadway show, visit Escape to Margaritaville.

Tickets for the San Diego production of Escape to Margaritaville are on sale at the La Jolla Playhouse website.

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