Score: Jimmy Buffett; Book: Greg Garcia & Mike O'Malley
At: Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St. Tickets: 800-775-2000 or BroadwayinChicago.org; $35-$115. Runs through: Dec. 2
There no doubt about the target audience for Escape to Margaritaville. This Broadway-bound jukebox musical is centered around the tropical rock hits of Jimmy Buffett, and is custom-made to capitalize on his legions of loyal fans, known as "Parrotheads."
So it would be fruitless to try and shush the folks around you throughout the show. They'll instinctively go "ah" or start singing along the instant they recognize the intros to beloved hit songs like "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere," "License to Chill" or "Cheeseburger Paradise."
Escape to Margaritaville isn't a behind-the-music style jukebox show like Jersey Boys. Instead, it's more in the vein of Mamma Mia! where preexisting songs get shoehorned into a new and silly script. Book co-writers Greg Garcia and Mike O'Malley unashamedly show their hands at being huge Buffett fans, which is why so many of Buffett's song lyrics have been re-purposed as dialogue or as character traits.
Escape to Margaritaville centers around the free-loving island troubadour Tully ( Paul Alexander Nolan ), who is surprised when he genuinely starts to romantically fall for the vacationing environmental scientist Rachel ( Alison Luff ). There are also two secondary comic-relief couples: the not-so-bright bartender Brick ( Eric Petersen ) and the weight-watching bride-to-be Tammy ( Lisa Howard ), plus the no-nonsense resort manager Marley ( Rema Webb ) and the perpetually soused island bum J.D. ( Don Sparks ).
Garcia and O'Malley's script does skim some serious issues ( women who are body-shamed, the importance of pursuing dreams over defeatist attitudes ), but Escape to Margaritaville doesn't dramatically delve too deeply. It's as it too much conflict would have been a buzzkill, so let's bring on lots of groan-inducing puns and wacky visual humor in choreographer KellyDevine's tap-dancing production number of zombie insurance salesmen. Yes, you read that right.
If the script is just okay as a sturdy framework for the more famous songs, at least it's all served up well in director Christopher Ashely's professionally competent production. The performers also throw themselves into their roles, digging as deep as they can with such laid-back material.
Whether Escape to Margaritaville proves to be a big hit on Broadway will probably depend on the number of Parrotheads who regularly vacation in New York. But one thing for sure is that Escape to Margaritaville will likely find a receptive future home at any one of Margaritaville-branded resorts in the Caribbean or in the South. That's what you get when a musical feels like yet another entrepreneurial venture for a songwriter/musician who has inspired so many to relax and chill.