Broadway Bound “Margaritaville” Is A Tasty Recipe But Not Yet Top Shelf

by Kevin M. Thomas, @ReelKev

La Jolla Playhouse has become the breeding ground for new and exciting productions.  As pointed out at the opening of its current production of “Escape to Margaritaville,” two current Tony nominees started at La Jolla.

So it’s no wonder the spotlight is on La Jolla and not surprising that its current production of “Margaritaville” has extended its run twice already, even though it just opened.

Stitching together offbeat Jimmy Buffet songs into a cohesive story is a tough job in this jukebox musical but for the most part succeeds thanks to its clever book writer’s Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley. Their work, coupled with original and popular songs from the Buffet songbook, add a dimension to the story that may have been lost if just a piecemeal of Buffet’s hits.

But much of the success is due to Buffet, whose long career of folk tales and narrative tunes based upon his travels, help paint a tropical postcard and invitation for us all to travel to Margaritaville.

The story, directed by Tony nominee Christopher Ashley (who is currently nominated for “Come From Away” which also started at La Jolla) has a vibrant and exciting feel to it, almost making us feel like we all should get tickets to this paradise.

Cast also impresses. Paul Alexander Nolan in a role modeled after Buffet continues to build on a solid foundation of folksy characters after wowing Broadway in the underrated “Bright Star.” He’s got great stage presence and is reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart, making the audience believe whatever he’s selling…or singing.

His love interest played by Alison Luff is a good match and definitely has sparks with Nolan. But co-star Lisa Howard steals the show as Luff’s best friend. Funny, memorable and charismatic, she leads a terrific supporting cast which includes Charlie Pollock, Don Sparks and Rema Webb who all do exemplary work.

As a whole, “Margaritaville” is a spirited triumph which gives all romantics a chance to find love in a tropical paradise. With that being said, while you will walk out uplifted, the show could be a bit tighter and hopefully that will be done before it opens on Broadway next year. The easiest cuts are with the imaginary dead accountants. While fun, they don’t really advance the story and perhaps their omission might be all the show needs to make the show turn this feel good effort into a Top Shelf serving of “Margaritaville.”

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