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Jimmy Buffett’s ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE at Shea’s is good lightweight amusement, but a bit formulaic and forced. It’s up only through Sunday.

THE BASICS:  Jimmy Buffett’s ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE, national tour, wraps up at Shea’s Performing Arts Center (Shea’s Buffalo Theatre) this Sunday evening, November 21, Thursday -Friday at 7:30 pm, Saturday at 2:00 and 8:00, Sunday at 1:00 and 6:30. (Sheas.org).  All your favorite snacks, champagne, full-service bar, merch. Runtime:  2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  This musical follows the well-known formula of the Romantic Comedy or “Rom-Com” (boy meets girl of different background or personality, problems arise, true love prevails) as well as the format of the “Jukebox Musical” – cramming as many well-known popular songs as possible, plot be damned. There has to be a lead, or “A” couple, and each of them must have a best friend/wing-person, slightly out of step for comic relief, who often become the secondary, or “B” couple.  And in this musical we even get a third couple.  Why so many couples?  Because the writers needed a wide variety of situations to justify the 25 songs that are included.

Here’s who’s who: Tully is a singer at a run down Caribbean hotel called Margaritaville, owned by an island woman named Marley, where Tully’s friend Brick is the bartender, and J.D. is the local drunk.  Meanwhile, Rachel, a career-minded researcher in Cincinnati and her best friend Tammy decide to go on a vacation on the eve of Tammy’s marriage to the overbearing and controlling Chadd.  Just as the boys, Tully and Brick, are falling in love with the two guests, Rachel and Tammy have to go back home to prepare for Tammy’s wedding.  After bits of songs here and there, Act I finally remembered that this is a juke-box musical and ends with a big production number, including all the verses to the song “Margaritaville.”  In Act II, J.D. and Marley (the third couple) fly the boys to Cincinnati for the grand gesture and to wrap things up.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION:

When Jimmy Buffett and his band “The Coral Reefers” go on the road he reportedly has a song list he likes to call “The 15 Songs We Have to Play or Get Killed.”  Apparently he gave that list to Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley who then wrote the book for this musical, using that list and more.  Ultimately there were 25 songs, sort of.  Now usually a playbill will list, in the order sung, the songs we’ll hear, but for this musical, we get an alphabetical list of the 25 songs.  That’s because, with the exception of the song “Margaritaville” which closes Act I, I thought that the first act was mostly all fragments of songs.  During intermission I was complaining about this to a couple who had seen this musical when it was first on Broadway and was assured that would change in Act II, which was true.

I was prepared for a show with more full-length songs throughout, which is my memory of the way MAMMA MIA! (songs by ABBA), or JERSEY BOYS (with songs by The Four Seasons), or MOVIN’ OUT (songs by Billy Joel) were arranged.

Lead image: Photo by © Matthew Murphy

Unlike most rom coms, it turned out that I wasn’t really rooting for any of the couples.  And, I thought that the bad guy, Tammy’s fiancée, was just clueless, and not sufficiently awful.  He gets his comeuppance towards the end, and many in the audience cheered, but I thought that the cheering should have been louder.  And it would have been, perhaps, if Chadd had been worse.

I think another problem is that, unlike at a Jimmy Buffett concert, the audience was there mostly because they have season tickets and this musical was the next touring show.  So, the odd Hawaiian shirt in the audience notwithstanding, this was a Broadway crowd, not a Jimmy Buffett crowd.  At several moments, the script expects the audience to be more involved than the Buffalo audience was.

There were several amusing “meta” moments.  Early on, an island guest is invited to eat at the “BUFF-it” and when the guest says “Don’t you mean buff-AY?” is told, “No, the BUFF-it… buff-ay is the name of some singer.”  And when the boys arrive in Cincinnati, Tammy, almost as if she knows she’s in a rom-com, asks Brick “Oh, is this your grand gesture?”  And, there’s a big tap number because…. well because this is a Broadway show, even if the lead actor in that number is wearing sneakers.  But the best meta line was when an African-American talent agent is talking Tully into taking his career to the next level.  When he demurs, she tells him his act will work – “acoustic guitar, songs about the beach, hush puppies – white people love that shit.”

Lead image: Photo by © Matthew Murphy

So, if you go, don’t leave at intermission which some people around me apparently did.  And, by the way, don’t be in too big a hurry to exit Shea’s either, because, just as with THE BAND’S VISIT, the band has a very satisfying extended curtain call set.  And, speaking of the band, they are on stage for the whole musical, although not always seen, but when they are you can tell that there’s a real steel drum on stage, not a synth sample.  And that I loved.

Lead image: Photo by © Matthew Murphy

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

On “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?" As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take."

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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