Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Jimmy Buffett's Escape to Margaritaville
Escape to Margaritaville, which played briefly on Broadway in 2018, uses the songs of Jimmy Buffett to tell a story of romantic entanglements between the vacationers and staff of the mythical Margaritaville Hotel and Bar on an unnamed Caribbean island. Primary to the story are bar singer Tully, and Rachel, a work-focused scientist from Cincinnati who is accompanying her soon-to-be married best friend Tammy. Throw in an impending volcanic explosion, and there's plenty of drama, comedy, and romance.
Among Buffett's well-known songs included here are "Fins," "Why Don't We Get Drunk," "Margaritaville," "Volcano," and "Cheeseburger In Paradise," some serving to tell the story, and others as performance songs. "Three Chords" was written by Buffett specifically for the musical. At the performance I attended, many audience members could be heard singing along for several of the numbers.
The book by Greg Garcia and Mike O'Malley is silly, sometimes even ridiculous. The dialogue takes many cues from the song lyrics, and the story is crafted around these references. Even though the book doesn't take itself very seriously, the corny jokes and many celebratory odes to sex and alcohol produce some cringeworthy moments. Still, the story provides a solid framework to showcase Buffett's songs, and that's the primary appeal of the show.
Chris Bieser serves as the director and choreographer of this production. His dances are fun and appropriate for the material. There's even an unexpected and large tap number. He skillfully incorporates having his performers use of the aisles, and other bits of audience participation. Although there are a number of challenges to staging this show–including many scene locations, the weak story, and a small ensemble to cover many roles–the show is presented about as well as one could expect given those obstacles. Music director Ryan Henrich has prepared the cast well vocally.
As Tully, Jesse Plourde shows off wonderful singing and plenty of charisma throughout. Claire McPartland supplies a strong emotional arc as the serious scientist Rachel and is a skilled vocalist. Sydney McQueen Fieseler and Kyle McIntire are endearing as secondary couple Tammy and Brick, and both impress with their many numbers. Mark Reuter (JD) and Nicole Korbisch (Marley) are fun supporting performers as well. The ensemble is one of the better ones here in recent memory, each showing off triple threat skills. One wishes that La Comedia could have cast persons of color for several roles intended to be portrayed by non-white actors.
There are many locales for this show, and the set design by Dave Gabert aptly captures them. There are several very large pieces, a theatrically unanticipated design reveal in Act 2, and a unique yet effective rendering of a small airplane. The lighting by Edward Huber showcases some nice effects. The costumes by Emercita Erb and Mattison Williams are appealing and setting appropriate.
The story for Escape to Margaritaville is somewhat trite and basic, so anyone looking for deep intellectual stimulation will be disappointed. But, if you enjoy Jimmy Buffett songs and want to see them presented in a new setting and performed by a worthwhile cast, and with fine direction and dances, then this production is sure to entertain.
Jimmy Buffett's Escape to Margaritaville runs through June 18, 2023, at La Comedia Dinner Theater, 765 W Central Ave, Springboro OH. For tickets and information, please call 937-746-4554 or visit lacomedia.com.