Photo: Matthew Murphy
In a parallel universe that sometimes crosses into our own plane of existence, there is a tribe of people who love Jimmy Buffett. In our world, there are a lot of people who like Jimmy Buffett, those who bob their head along to the steel drums sounds in his singalong classic “Margaritaville.”
But in this alternative world, this love for Jimmy Buffett permeates everything. As they say in the new musical “Escape to Margaritaville,” which is onstage through Oct. 27 at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, Margaritaville isn’t so much a place as it is a state of mind.
The Parrotheads, as this group of Buffett-loving baby boomers calls themselves, were out in force for the Tuesday night (Oct. 22) opening of the musical, which debuted on Broadway in March 2018 and closed five months later. The attending Parrotheads wore Hawaiian shirts and sipped margaritas. “Escape to Margaritaville” is a show for them and the rest of those from the Jimmy Buffet fanclub/island worldview, and not as much for those who think “Come Monday” is actually his best song. “Escape to Margaritaville” is an anthropomorphic “Salt Life” bumper sticker that tells jokes it found on Laffy Taffy wrappers.
It’s for Buffett lovers because of how faithful the show’s plot is to Buffett’s lyrics and the lifestyle they inspired. Let’s pull through a few examples. The career-minded scientist Rachel (played by Sarah Hinrichsen) and her friend Tammy (played by Shelly Lynn Walsh) are from Cincinnati. They are from Cincinnati, of course, because the protagonist of Buffett’s song “Fins” is from Cincinnati. We can drill down a few layers, too. Rachel and Tammy are visiting this Caribbean(ish) island without a name because Tammy is about to get married. Her fiancé, Chadd, loves hockey more than he loves Tammy. And he’s put her on an aggressive pre-marriage weight-loss diet, allowing her only a few sunflower seeds and some carrot juice each day. Why sunflower seeds and carrot juice? Because that’s what’s mentioned in “Cheeseburger in Paradise” by Jimmy Buffett. How about one more? J.D. (played by Patrick Cogan), the drunkest on an island full of drunks, has spent the first half of the play looking for a missing saltshaker and pitching pop tops into the sand. Get it? There’s a character in the Buffett song “Margaritaville” that does the same. You would laugh here if you loved Buffett.
Photo: Matthew Murphy
In the carefully curated white-sand-beach world of “Margaritaville,” neither Rachel nor Tammy are having much fun. Tammy is restricted by her diet (and her fiancé). Rachel is too focused on getting a soil sample and a cell phone signal from the top of a volcano that she can’t calm down. Enter Brick and Tully, a pair of locals who tend the town bar or sing island songs at it, respectively. Brick (played by Peter Michael Jordan) falls for Tammy but understands her nuptials are fast arriving. Tully (Chris Clark) tries to charm Rachel with a few of his songs and a bottle of wine he’s stowed at the top of the volcano but finds she’s too wrapped up in her work.
What everyone needs, it would seem, are “Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitudes.” Oh gosh, they’ve gone and done it again.
Like in so many musicals, a cataclysmic event to close the first half of show propels us into the second act. Everyone gets their change in attitude – Rachel lives with a little less worry, J.D. gets a little more interesting, Brick figures out how to tame his acid flashbacks, Tully finds a way to persevere over his innate island laziness, etc…
We know these characters, and these story arcs, because we’ve seen them hundreds of times before. We have the girl who works too hard to have a relationship, the surfer bro who just needs to find his heart, the girl who needs to move on from a bad relationship but can’t and the dumb but good-hearted boy who just needs someone to learn that he’s been a great guy the whole time. I didn’t much root for anyone. I did root against Chadd. Never trust a Chadd with to ‘D’s in his name. I don’t have much to say about the actors here – I think they did their best with what was provided to them. The four leads all handled their parts, and Clark and Hinrichsen are both pretty people who harmonize well.
Photo: Matthew Murphy
If we’re going to talk about stock characters and tropes, let’s talk about one I did like a lot. As many Broadway shows do, “Escape to Margaritaville” contains a fever dream dance number near the top of the second act. This one involved Brick and some flashy costumes and the volcano that looms over the island. It felt inspired and had a lot of heart.
Beyond that highlight, our twist to these stock characters was that every location or inspiration came straight from the pen of Jimmy Buffett. It’s always “Five O’Clock Somewhere” in this show, and there’s always someone asking “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw?”
As they say on the internet, that’s it. That’s the show.
And that’s as much as you’ll get from “Escape to Margaritaville.” It’s a must-visit vacation destination if you love Jimmy Buffett or have a “30A” sticker on your car window. It’s a little less exotic of an adventure for landlocked types, whether that’s a physical or mental state of being.
What: “Escape to Margaritaville”
When: Through Oct. 27
Where: Walton Arts Center, Fayetteville
Cost: Starting at $32 plus fees
Tickets: 479-443-5600 or waltonartscenter.org