Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Escape to Jimmy Buffet Play at La Jolla Playhouse

Escape to Margaritaville, the new musical in a world premiere at La Jolla Playhouse, is all you'd expect from a Jimmy Buffet-inspired show, plus some. The moment you arrive at the theater tucked in the woods, you're greeted by Adirondack chairs, colorful island decor, and a tiki-inspired bar inviting you to relax with a margarita. No surprise when the action on stage features a resort paradise on a remote island in the middle of an idyllic ocean. American tourists leave the cold weather and job demands at home to live it up in the warm waters and sunny shores of Margaritaville, which turns out to be a real destination and way of life in addition to a state of mind. 

The opening number sets the tone. Around the festive resort bar, an ensemble of talented performers in island garb bid farewell to departing patrons and serve up drinks for the new group checking in. A smooth-talking, guitar-picking crooner named Tully, played by Paul Alexander Nolan (Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and Jesus Christ Superstar at LJ Playhouse and Bright Star on Broadway), charms the ladies into romantic antics at the beginning of the week and lets them down easy to fly home at the end. But it's Tully who gets caught in his own trap when he meets Rachel, the smarty-pants scientist from Cincinnati played by Alison Luff (Broadway revival of Le Miserables and national tour of Wicked). Traveling with a girlfriend who's working up to a case of cold feet about her pending nuptials, Rachel first dismisses Tully, but eventually cozies up to him for a week of island bliss. In a stark reversal of roles, he's left adrift when she departs. You'll have to buy a ticket to learn how all of that works out or not. 

The score provides plenty of tunes to satisfy Buffet parrot heads and novices alike, including classics like "Margaritaville" at the end of the first act, "Let's Get Drunk," "Son of a Sailor" and "Come Monday." A zombie ensemble (yes) makes a surprise entrance to dial up the story in a slower-paced Act I, and returns with a a show-stopping, tap-dancing chorus line number in the much faster-paced Act II with the island erupting in a crisis. Tully faces a dilemma that destroys his laid back lifestyle and causes him to question where he's headed.

A collaboration between La Jolla Playhouse Artistic Director Christopher Ashley and Jimmy Buffet, the show announced in January that it would launch a Broadway run in 2018, after stops in New Orleans, Houston and Chicago. Don your Tommy Bahama shirt or floral sundress and check out Tully and the gang before they leave La Jolla Playhouse on the UCSD campus. Escape to Margaritaville could be the antidote for all that ails you, as long as you don't expect anything slightly serious to spoil the fun.