Frozen cocktails. Fruity umbrella drinks. Sandy beaches and teal blue waters. Palm frond-thatched gazebos guarded by tanned cabana boys...
Everyone has their idea of a tropical paradise—the sort of island oasis that makes for the dream vacation, that beachy universe that sounds like it's straight out of a Jimmy Buffett song, the world of Margaritaville.
Escape to Margaritaville is a new musical based on the music and the sand-between-your-toes, margarita-in-hand mentality of Jimmy Buffett. It includes both classic hits by the flip-flop-clad crooner as well as original music written just for the show.
Everything from the brightly colored sets, to the music (complete with steel drums!), to the beachy attire (and even the theater crew donned Hawaiian shirts for the occasion), transports us to this tropical island. The Margaritaville Resort, in the shade of a semi-inactive volcano, welcomes vacationers trying to put their real-world cares on hold for a week while sipping stiff drinks, sleeping late (often not alone), and soaking up sun and booze to nurse the hangover from indulging in just such activities the night before.
We watch as best friends Rachel (Alison Luff) and Tammy (Lisa Howard) journey to Margaritaville for Tammy's bachelorette party. Rachel is uptight and overly conservative, and a little sea air and free-flowing tequila might do her some good. Meanwhile, Tammy is about to make the mistake of marrying her hyper-critical high school sweetheart, and needs to get a little sense (and some cocktails) in her. On the island, the two women encounter the hotel bartender Brick (Eric Petersen) and the resort's bar singer Tully (Paul Alexander Nolan), and with some "changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes," they just might find a new outlook on life and perhaps even more.
Despite his eight weekly shows—six days a week—with five-hour rehearsals daily and two-hour workouts, Paul Alexander Nolan still found some time to discuss his role as Tully and Escape to Margaritaville in general. Nolan, who has been in the theater biz for 20 years now, loves being a part of this production. "It's like being at a carnival with people who give me an all-access pass to every ride," he says.
According to Nolan, his character, Tully, is "a womanizer" who, upon meeting Rachel, "finds his 'tourist conquest' turning into something more than he reckoned." But he's also a fun-loving, islander type who "wants everyone to have a great time and enjoy their vacation." Says Nolan, "I like playing Tully because he's cooler than I am and because I have played a lot of depressed people or characters in the past. Tully simply deals in joy."
And speaking of joy, this is a feel-good show on many levels. For starters, it's very funny. From the clever dialogue and cheeky one-liners, to humorous jokes ("What's the best thing about living on a tropical island? If you're walking home and pass out drunk, you won't freeze to death!"), to the intentionally silly puns ("I bought shoes from a drug dealer once. I don't know what he laced them with, but I was tripping all day!")
But it's also got a meaningful message, about living life in the moment and the importance of having fun. Nolan feels that Jimmy Buffett is in large part to thank for that. "Buffett is great because he manages to be a philosopher through music that speaks to many people," Nolan says. "He knows what fun is. He knows how much people need to enjoy life and how to show them the way there."
For this reason and many others, Buffett has garnered quite a following in the 50+ years he's been making music. His group of avid fans call themselves "Parrot Heads," and they just love Escape to Margaritaville. Yes, with this show, you should expect a lot of audience participation—a whole lot of singing along during the songs. But this is a fact that comes in very handy for Nolan. Discussing a time when he once forgot the lyrics to one of Buffett's most popular tunes while on stage, Nolan recounts, "I asked the audience to remind me. This is likely the only show I could ever get away with that, because the Parrot Heads know every word he ever wrote, and so they're the best prompter I could ask for."
There are so many highlights of this musical—the humor, the music, the set, the talent. And if there's anything that could possibly outdo the scene with the tap dancing insurance salesmen zombies (and not much in life can beat that), it would have to be the special guest appearance at the end of the show by Jimmy Buffett himself. As beach balls fell from the ceiling for the audience to throw around (and since cheesy puns are the norm in this show, allow me to say, talk about dropping the ball), Buffett took the stage to play a couple numbers and recruit money for hurricane relief. It was the perfect note to end on.
If you ask him what is the one thing people should take away from this show, Nolan responds, "I want them to take away a Margaritaville souvenir cup that they drained during intermission." And, of course, most folks will walk out with a captured beach ball as well.
If you missed the week-long run at the Saenger Theatre, which unfortunately ends tonight, don't despair. No need to drown your sorrows in margaritas (though this is recommended regardless). Escape to Margaritaville is making a cross-country trip on its way to the bright lights of Broadway. This touring production will be stopping in Houston and Chicago before heading to New York City, where performances begin there on February 16, 2018. So just like it's five o'clock somewhere, Escape to Margaritaville is playing somewhere. And it's worth the trip to find it.
Escape to Margaritaville plays the Saenger Theatre October 20-28. To get last-minute tickets for the final performance tonight, click HERE.
Photos by Matthew Murphy.