The fun-loving resort entertainer/playboy Tully, the central character in “Jimmy Buffet’s Escape to Margaritaville,” declares within the first few minutes of the show that “romance is better enjoyed on the surface—like the ocean.”
The same could be said for this jukebox musical, now in production at The Barn Theatre, that hangs entirely on Jimmy Buffet’s country-calypso, soft-rock hits. The plot, in fact, is driven by lyrics from said hits.
Expect to encounter a woman who’s likely to blame, a dude who’s actually at fault, in addition to sponge cake, a lost saltshaker or two, and a brand new tattoo (“Margaritaville”). Also, sharks made out of pool noodles (“Fins”) and a big dance number with cheeseburgers (“Cheeseburger in Paradise”).
The larger story organized to fit the song lyrics revolves around feminist environmental scientist Rachel who’s organized an escape to Margaritaville for her friend Tammy before she marries a dude bro who insists she diet to fit into a too-small wedding dress. When they arrive to the place reviewed on Yelp as “the pimple of the sea”, where “work” is a dirty word and there’s no wifi or cell service, Rachel must face her workaholism and potentially let loose with Tully while Tammy is prepared to drink all the tequila and fall hard for (or at least into bed with) Brick for his easy going nature and their mutual love of puns. A volcanic eruption threatens the resort; Tully falls for Rachel who only has eyes for her work; and J.D., the one-eyed beach bum, teaches Tully that “you can’t let fear get between you and your dreams” so Tully more seriously pursues his career to great success and when he encounters Rachel again . . . well, you can imagine the rest.
It’s deliberately silly, though not overly clever, pretty predictable, and yet at The Barn Theatre it’s a hit—a big, drunken tropical party singalong. The crowd as well as the stage are studded with colorful Hawaiian print shirts and every ticket-holding Parrothead, as Jimmy Buffet fans are known, is having the time of his life. Even those dressed in plain clothes might get caught singing along or volleying a beach ball.
For as thin as the script is, the show is expertly directed by Eric Peterson who also plays Brick, the sweet, dim-witted bartender, a role he originated on Broadway. His warm presence as well as his palpable comfort with and command of the material sets the tone for the rest of the cast, and here there are many noteworthy performances.
Luke Ragotzy captures the spirit of Jimmy Buffet in his portrayal of Tully, as easy to grab a guitar and break into song as he is seducing women; both Lizzie Maguire as Rachel and Elizabeth Volpe as Tammy have strong, clear voices; Charlie King is a natural, affable old drunk as J.D. and has marvelous chemistry with Carrie Compere who is a wonderful, commanding presence as resort owner Marley.
The entire ensemble creates delightful party scenes and dance numbers and the songs sound terrific under musical direction from Matt Shabala who leads an excellent five-piece band. Cute choreography from Kasey Lazan, including that cheeseburger pas de deux as well as a hilarious zombie tap dance and ballerina clouds, are a big part of the visual fun. As are the costumes by Karsen Green, the lights by Tracy V. Joe, and the set design by Brett Burradell and Eric Petersen which moves the many scenes and action from stateside to various locales on the island to up in the air seamlessly.
The Barn’s “Escape to Margaritaville” is ultimately light-hearted and playful, the kind of summer fare that doesn’t require much thought or care. And what a unique opportunity it is to see this show directed by someone who effectively helped create the original Broadway production. It is, indeed, like an escape from reality. If not an all-inclusive resort in a tropical locale, The Barn Theatre is a pretty great place to sit back, relax, and waste away a few enjoyable hours.
Escape to Margaritaville