As I mentioned in my writeup for The Simon & Garfunkel Story, Saturday was a crazy day. Due to my scheduing confusion, we ended up with two shows in Hollywood, moving from S&G at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) to the Dolby Theatre (FB) for Escape to Margaritaville, the first show for Broadway in Hollywood (FB) at the Dolby. Before I go into the details of the show, let’s talk about BinH at the Dolby.
The Dolby is a very different venue than the Pantages. Whereas the Pantages is old and ornate and rococo and filled with history, the Dolby is new and shiny and modern. For those familiar with the old-day in LA theatre, contrast the old Shubert Theatre in Century City with the style of the Dorothy Chandler. The Pantages staff working at the Dolby were warm and welcoming and friendly, guiding people unfamiliar with the facility to where the needed to go. As for the facility itself … good and bad. The bad is that there is no longer the same central lobby there was at the Pantages. One can enter either on the first or second floor; entering on the second bypasses much of audience services and the all important merchandise booth. Refreshments (not that I partake) are more expenses; at the Dolby they are a Wolfgang Puck enterprise, with prices to match. As for the theatre itself, the venue is narrower but taller. This means that what had been side orchestra seating has been relegated to the loge and first mezzanine, often off to the sides. In some ways, it is a better view, but it is also further from the stage. I don’t think they are using the topmost balcony. In any case, if you aren’t on the orchestra floor, bring your binoculars. Sound in the facility was good, and a bit clearer than in the Pantages.
Turning to the show itself: Escape to Margaritaville is a jukebox musical, built around the music of Jimmy Buffett and Buffett’s general theme of Island Rock, also characterized as “Gulf and Western”. This music plays up the notion of relaxing life on a tropical island. We seem to be in a jukebox musical period, where songs from a performer’s songbook are stitched together, given a few nips, tucks, and alterations, and crafted into a serviceable story of varying strength. Sometimes this story is autobiographical (think Beautiful or the upcoming Cher Show), sometimes is a somewhat fictionalized quasi-autobiography (think The Last Ship with its Sting surrogate), and sometimes the story has no connection with the artist at all, but it just works with the catalog (think Mamma Mia or Head Over Heels). Escape fits somewhere between the latter two types: it is quasi-autobiographical in that an Island-rock singer is discovered, but the rest of the story is fictional.
The story of Escape is relatively simple, and you can find the gory details on the Wikipedia page. The book was developed by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley, building around the music of Jimmy Buffet (who evidently changed a few songs and lyrics a bit). The basic notion is this: Margaritaville is a bar on an unnamed tropical island that has a dormant volcano (why do they always have volcanos, right, Spongebob?). The bar is owned by Marley; denizens of the bar include Tully (the singer), Brick (the bartender), J.D. (the crochety old tourguide who has supposedly hidden a treasure somewhere), Jamal, and Jesus (two of the staff). The life is easy: tourists come in for a week, get drunk, have island romances, and then go back to their dank winters in the northeastern US. Two such tourists are Rachel and Tammy, out on a last vacation before Tammy gets married to Chadd, who keeps wanting Tammy to lose weight. Tammy wants to have fun. Rachel is less interesting, but is going to the island to collect soil samples so she can work on her project: an energy-producing potato. Yes, I said potato. This is the opening exposition, and the rest of the first half of the story is building up the love interests: Tammy with Brick, who represents a guy who loves her for who she is, and Tully with Rachel, who gets Rachel to drop her guard and adopt the Island lifestyle. But all good things end, and Tammy and Rachel go back to Ohio and the cold. Then the Volcano blow. Cue: “Now I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know where I’m a gonna go, When the volcano blow”
The second half of the show is after. We get to see the island folks evacuating, Tully and Brick chasing J.D. who has gone off in search of his treasure — which he finds as they escape the island just in time. We see the island folks running off to Ohio to follow Tully’s love. Meanwhile, back in Ohio, the rehearsal dinner is proving a problem where Tammy wants to have a cheeseburger (cue the song), but her fiancee Chadd wants her to have vegan pasta, and Rachel is trying to find funding for her potato. In rushes the island folks and … well, this is a musical so you can probably predict the happy ending that ensures.
Before the show hit Broadway (it started out in La Jolla), reaction to it was positive. It did well in New Orleans and Houston and even Chicago. It hits New York and … gets a resounding thud from critics, as do many shows that play well outside the city (Bandstand is another example of that). What was our reaction?
This was in no sense a deep show with some sort of deeper meaning. It wears its ambitions on its sleeve: this is an island musical about slowing down and enjoying life, about not worrying about the drama. If you go in knowing that, you aren’t disappointed. But if you are cosmopolitan and want something with depth and meaning and social significance, this isn’t it. If I had to draw a parallel with respect to the depth of the story, I’d say to compare it with Mamma Mia. This isn’t a story of social import; it is just a fun time (as demonstrated by the beach balls and singing at the end).
But the presentation of this story does a number of things right in my book. First, it celebrates science. Yes, we’re talking about power from a potato, but the lead heroine is not a princess, but an environmental scientist who wants to do science. Inspire those women to do STEM! Second, the woman driving the other story (Tammy) is portrayed as not a stick-thin blond but a blond with a build of a typical American woman. That is: slightly larger than the media portrays it. Her intended, Chadd, wants the media portrayal, but the “one true love” is the one that doesn’t demand change: that sees the beauty in who she is and not what she ways. This body-positive message is echoed through the ensemble casting, which includes not only diversity in color but diversity in size: there are island cuties and tourists that are in the larger size group — and it is beautiful to see on stage. So the messages in this show are a winning combination.
So overall, I’d say this is an enjoyable story, if you aren’t looking for much depth. If Mamma Mia is your speed, and your looking for something light and laughable and fun, this is it. If you are looking for the deep messages of Hamilton or The Prom or even Dear Even Hansen … this isn’t the show for you. But for a light story, told well, with a strong cast of newcomers: this works.
As we turn to the performance, I should note that this is a non-Equity cast. This does not imply any lack of talent from the cast, only that they have not yet made their Broadway debuts. For many, this is their first tour; for a few, this is their professional debut. Director Amy Anders Corcoran (FB), building upon the original Broadway direction of Christopher Ashley (FB), does a great job of realizing the story in a tour environment (which has to fit in a truck or two), as well as molding the younger cast into a wonderfully performing whole. Movement was under the direction of Kelly Devine (FB) Choreographer, assisted by Andrew Turteltaub (FB) Assoc. Choreographer. So let’s look at those performances, couple by couple.
First up: Sarah Hinrichsen (FB) Rachel and Chris Clark (FB) Tully. Hinrichsen did a wonderful job of bringing a nice spunk and playfulness to her character, and she had strong chemistry with Clark. This was demonstrated well in the “falling in love” sequences in the first act, especially in numbers like “Three Chords” or “Son of a Son of a Sailor”. I can’t judge the “hunk” quality of Clark, but he also had a strong chemistry with Hinrichsen. Both sang and moved well.
The next couple was Shelly Lynn Walsh (FB) Tammy and Peter Michael Jordan (FB) Brick. These two were also strong, especially Walsh’s portrayal of Tammy. She brought a wonderful joy to that character, together with a great singing voice in songs such as “Five O’Clock Somewhere” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise”. Jordan’s role was a bit more secondary, but he still brought a great performance to the role.
The third couple, so to speak, was Rachel Lyn Fobbs (FB) Marley and Patrick Cogan (FB) J. D.. Fobbs is strong from the opening number where she welcomes people to Margaritaville, bringing loads of fun. Cogan’s J.D. is more one spice in the first act (“Salt, Salt”), but comes into his own with a lot of humor in the second act.
Rounding out the performance team in featured and ensemble roles are: Matthew James Sherrod (FB) Jamal; Sophie Braud (FB) Ensemble; Noah Bridgestock (FB) Chadd, Ensemble; DeVon Buchanan (FB) Ted, Ensemble; Anthony Cataldo (★FB, FB) Ensemble; Chantelle Cognevich (FB) Ensemble; Katie Davis (FB) Ensemble; Nico DiPrimio (FB) Ensemble; Fabian-Joubert Gallmeister (FB) Ensemble; Diego Alejandro Gonzalez (FB) Jesus, Ensemble; Bobby Hogan (FB) Ensemble; Aimee Lane (FB) Ensemble, Dance Captain; Michael Matthew Sakelos (★FB, FB) Ensemble; Trent Soyster (FB) Ensemble; Emma Stricker (FB) Ensemble; Jade Turner (FB) Ensemble; and Morgan Unger (FB) Ensemble. Swings were Victoria Price (FB) and Tyler Whitaker (FB).
Music was provided by an on-stage orchestra under the music direction of Andrew David Sotomayor (FB), supplemented by the actor that played Tully. The orchestra consisted of (🌴 indicates local): Andrew David Sotomayor (FB) Keyboard; Claudio Raino (FB) Guitar; Jakob Smith (★FB, FB) Guitar; Joela Oliver (FB) Bass; Russ Henry (FB) Steel Drums; Taurus Lovely (★FB) Drums; Jake Boldman (FB) Trumpet; Emma Reinhart (FB) Trumpet; 🌴 Sean Franz (FB) Tenor Sax / Bari Sax / Clarinet / Bass Clarinet / Flute / Recorder; 🌴 Aaron Smith (FB) Trumpet / Flugelhorn / Recorder; 🌴 Brian LaFontaine (FB) Guitar 1 (Electric / Acoustic / Ukulele / Banjo / Lap Steel), Harmonica; 🌴 Jack Majdecki (★FB) Guitar 2 (Electric / Acoustic / Mandolin / 12 String / Ukulele); 🌴 Lynn Keller (FB) Bass; 🌴 Rayford Griffin (★FB) Drums / Percussion; 🌴 Jared Stein (FB) Keyboards. Other music related credits: Randy Cohen (FB) Keyboard Programmer; Talitha Fehr (FB) Music Coordinator; 🌴 Eric Heinly (FB) Orchestra Contractor; Michael Utley Orchestrations; Gary Adler Dance Music Arrangements; Mac McAnally (★FB) Music Consultant; Christopher Jahnke Music Supervision & Arrangements and Additional Orchestrations.
Finally, turning to the production and creative side. Walt Spangler‘s scenic design consisted of a space for the band that could be covered by a curtain or scrim at the back of the stage, and then scenic elements at the front that primarily represented Margaritaville, with an occasional additional prop for the volcano or Ohio. Some of the scenic elements were outstanding and super-creative, such as the snorkeling scenes or the volcano climbing scenes. This scenic design was supported by Paul Tazewell‘s costumes and Leah J. Loukas (FB)’s wigs, hair, and makeup. Howell Binkley (FB) & Amanda Zieve‘s lighting design established the mood well, and Brian Ronan & Craig Cassidy‘s sound design worked reasonably well in the Dolby space. Other production credits: Binder Casting (FB) Casting; Suzayn Mackenzie-Roy Production Stage Manager; Emma Iacometta (FB) Assistant Stage Manager; Andrew Terlizzi Company Manager; The Booking Group Exclusive Tour Direction; Bond Theatrical Group Marketing and Publicity Direction; Marathon Digital Social Media; Heather Chockley Production Manager; Brian Schrader General Manager; Angela Rowles Executive Producer.
Escape to Margaritaville continues at the Dolby Theatre (FB)/Broadway in Hollywood (FB) through March 8. Should you go see it? If you go in with eyes wide open regarding what it is: a jukebox musical with a story at the level of Mamma Mia, with lots of great Jimmy Buffett music and wonderful body positivity messages, than yes. If you’re looking for something deep, well, perhaps there are some Mormon missionaries coming to your door. Tickets are available through the BiH box office. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar or through TodayTix.
Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Soraya/VPAC (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2020-2021 season] and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups. Note to publicists or producers reading this: here’s my policy on taking comp tickets. Bottom-Line: Only for things of nominal value, like Fringe.
As for the last weekend of February, I’ll be in Madison WI visiting my daughter, the the lineup she has scheduled is busy: The Revolutionists from Mercury Players Theatre/Bartell Theatre on the UW Madison campus on Friday (Eileen Evers is an alternative); the Lee Blessing play Down The Road from Two Crows Theatre Company on Saturday (columbinus at Edgewood College is the bad weather backup), and MST 3000 on Sunday. Whew! Alas, I’ll be missing both Nefesh Mountain at Temple Israel of Hollywood and Tom Paxton and the Don Juans at McCabes due to this.
March starts with Passion at Boston Court (FB) the first weekend. The 2nd weekend brings the MRJ Man of the Year dinner (and The Wild Party at Morgan Wixson). The 3rd brings Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) ; and the last weekend brings Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB) and the MoTAS/TBH Seder. April is similarly busy: the 1st weekend is Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); the 2nd is during Pesach and is open (but has Count Basie at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the Thursday before); the 3rd is Once on This Island at the Ahmanson Theatre; the last is Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) (and possibly Hands on a Hardbody at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB)), and the first weekend of May is Mean Girls at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB).
As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!