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Theater Review: “Escape To Margaritaville”

Paul Alexander Nolan (on chair) and the cast of La Jolla Playhouse’s world-premiere musical “Escape To Margaritaville”
Photo credit:
Matthew Murphy

In a beachside bar somewhere in the Caribbean, there’s a sign that says “You can’t drink all day if you don’t start in the morning.”

That sums up the “change in latitude, change in attitude” vibe of Jimmy Buffett and his songs in the delightful world premiere of “Escape To Margaritaville” at La Jolla Playhouse.

Evidence that the public wants and/or needs a little positive change right now? The show was extended twice before it opened last week. It now runs through July 9, with Christopher Ashley directing. The show will tour a bit (to New Orleans, Houston and Chicago) before its Broadway opening.

Walt Spangler’s colorful island set, complete with grass umbrellas and that bar, sets the scene for the large cast cavorting in brightly-colored, skimpy outfits that scream “vacation!”

The plot has working girl Rachel (Alison Luff) taking friend Tammy (Lisa Howard) down to the islands for her bachelorette party.

The heavy-set Tammy is about to marry a jerk named Chadd (Alex Michael Stoll), who has put her on a carrot juice and sunflower seed diet so she’ll look good for the wedding. (Really?)

For her part, Rachel is laser-focused on her career and doesn’t think she needs attitude adjustment – or even a man.

But the islands have a way of melting silly resolves like that. Rachel runs into utterly charming part-time bartender Tully (Paul Alexander Nolan) – who can also sing up a storm, while Tammy finds laid-back islander Brick (Charlie Pollock), who likes her just as she is.

But even more fun than these readily identifiable characters are a group of island zombies.

You read that right: they were real estate salespeople enjoying the island way of life when the last volcano blow occurred, making zombies out of the lot of them. Now they roam the tropical bushes in ash-gray clothes, surfacing now and again for a spirited tap dance or soft-shoe. They are hilarious – and talented.

And watch for Tully and Rachel snorkeling à la Peter Pan.

The major roles feature Broadway veterans and they’re all terrific. Nolan (remembered for his starring role in “Jesus Christ Superstar” here) acts, sings and plays guitar with equal talent and verve.

Luff is convincing as hard-driving Rachel, who finally learns to relax Caribbean style.

Lisa Howard’s Tammy and Pollock’s Brick make a great combination as well.

Rema Webb is charming as the Calypso-inflected Marley, who seems to own the bar. Her “other” is aging hippie J.D., wonderfully portrayed by Don Sparks.

“Escape To Margaritaville” is mostly an excuse to hear those great old Buffett songs (and some new ones penned for the show). You will leave this show with a smile on your face.

The details

“Escape To Margaritaville” has been extended through July 9, 2017 at La Jolla Playhouse’s Mandell Weiss Theatre, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive (on the UCSD campus).

Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm

Tickets: (858) 550-1010 or lajollaplayhouse.org