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NUNN ON ONE: THEATER My breakfast with Andre (Ward)
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times

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Calling all Parrotheads! Escape to Margaritivalle is taking audiences on a vacation in Chicago. Mixing Jimmy Buffett's classic tunes with a Tony Award winning director Christopher Ashley to form a new musical sounds like a recipe for a good time.

Margaritaville is a place where people can escape and fall in love or make new friends.

Andre Ward joins the ensemble with an impressive resume. His musical background includes The Producers, Rock of Ages, and Something Rotten! Ward played multiple roles in the musical version of Xanadu including Terpsichore, Suthiba, and Hermes. Television appearances include Master of None, Broad City, and Elementary.

He met up at a breakfast press conference to talk about this new endeavor and his return to Chicago.

Windy City Times: Hi, Andre. What is your background?

Andre Ward: I am originally from Las Vegas. I started theater when I was in the fourth grade. My teacher said I talked too much in class so my grandfather took me to the local children's theater. That is where I started acting.

I got my degree in musical theater from Utah. I then came to New York and have been there ever since.

I have been very blessed and fortunate.

This is my second show with both Chris Ashley and Kelly Devine. They are some fantastic collaborators.

WCT: Is this your first time in Chicago?

AW: No; in 1998, I opened Ragtime when they redid the Ford Center for the first show in the newly remodeled Oriental. This is like coming home for me.

WCT: How was being in Something Rotten? I love that show.

AW: Oh, my goodness, that was like a piece of candy for me. It was so wonderful. Michael James Scott, who originated the role, is a friend of mine so it was beautiful.

WCT: I noticed it's a fast-moving show.

AW: There are 11 tap numbers. I could eat whatever I wanted!

WCT: Is there a favorite musical you have been in?

AW: Besides Escape to Margaritavlle? [Laughs]

Xanadu was such a gift to me. It was a piece of cotton candy. I worked with Kerry Butler, Cheyenne Jackson and Jackie Hoffman. I learned so much about comedy and working with an audience.

I got to work with Whoopi Goldberg when she came in for the last half of that. We went on together so I opened as her sister. We became fast friends. She is the consummate professional. What you see is what you get!

WCT: Were you on roller skates?

AW: I was, and had a ball. I didn't think I would like it, but I did.

WCT: What's the best show you have done that no one has heard of?

AW: I did a show called Lucky Duck. It was with Henry Krieger and Bill Russell. I played a free range chicken in a retelling of The Ugly Duckling.

Marcy Harriell was the lead and Bobby Spencer was the prince, who went on to Jersey Boys and Next to Normal.

It was a hoot and a half.

WCT: Talk about your role in Escape to Margaritaville.

AW: I play Jamal. He's the dishwasher at the Margarita Hotel and Bar. He is also the masseuse. He's a man of many talents and does lots of things around the hotel.

This is some of the best times I have ever had in a show. I have been in it since the first reading. It has been great to see the show grow and change.

WCT: With opening a show, is it constantly changing?

AW: Yes—and that is the glory of it. This is the fourth time I have originated a role in a show. It is a gift. It feeds my creativity and one of the reasons that I do what I do.

I get to learn from really great people like Mike O'Malley and Greg Garcia. They have given us a funny, but grounded, book.

WCT: Margaritaville is a pre-Broadway show?

AW: Yes, we will be at the Marquis Theatre opening March 15, 2018. Our name is already on the marquis at the Marquis.

WCT: What is the story of Escape to Margaritaville?

AW: It is a classic boy-meets-girl tale. They fall in love. It is a celebration we participate in. Jimmy Buffet's music is the jewel in the center. If you are theater goer and have never heard his music, it's really great. I wasn't familiar with all of his music, but I fell in love the moment I did at the first reading.

WCT: You are not sick of any of the songs already?

AW: No; that's the thing, I have done several musicals with well-known songs but this is, by far, the most infectious.

WCT: Do you have a favorite song?

AW: I am partial to "Volcano" because I sing it in the show. "Cheeseburger in Paradise" is pretty cool. I won't spoil anything but you have to see Lisa Howard in that number.

WCT: Where have you eaten the best cheeseburger?

AW: In New York, there is a restaurant across the street from my home called Maison Harlem. It just opened a couple of years ago. It has the best burger I have had in a long time. I order it quite a bit.

WCT: How is the dancing in the show?

AW: Kelly Devine is a Tony Award-nominated choreographer. It is thrilling, explosive, and powerful. I don't know if the audience is ready for what they will get. It's pretty spectacular.

WCT: Will Jimmy Buffett be there for opening in Chicago?

AW: I hope so. He surprised us in Houston, and New Orleans for both last shows. He joined us to perform "Margaritaville." He's the real deal.

WCT: Where are the other places the show has been workshopped?

AW: We did technical rehearsals and opened in New Orleans. We just came from Houston. The audience was phenomenal there. The Astros won so it was really great to be there then!

WCT: One of my friends is gay in the cast. Any others?

AW: We are a diverse cast in so many ways. There is nothing in your face in the show, but it is an all inclusive, celebratory show. That is what makes our show so special. We are present. We are here. As a gay man, I am here. I love that.

WCT: For the dress code should people wear the Jimmy Buffet Hawaiian shirt?

AW: Absolutely. We have people wearing the regular theater going outfits. There are Hawaiian shirts, as well as parrot-head and cheeseburger hats. I get to look into the audience and see the wide array!

Escape to Margaritaville runs through Saturday, Dec. 2, at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St; visit .

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