Bonnie's Eye On - Escape to Margaritaville
Anyone who has visited Florida, Jamaica, or Mexico has seen a Margaritaville resort or restaurant or perhaps you have heard of the man that started it all, Jimmy Buffett.
Stepping into the Oriental Theatre here in Chicago, I left the traffic of Randolph Street behind me and entered into the fun and relaxation of a vacation getaway. I had escaped to Margaritaville. The lobby is filled with tiki huts, bright colors, and umbrella drinks, just what I needed after a long day at work.
From the time the curtain goes up until it comes down the audience is whisked away through great songs, a story a lot of us have experienced on vacation (what goes on in Jamaica stays in Jamaica), and wonderful performances by a very talented cast. The key to a great show is when every character stands out to a point that no one stands out. It’s a perfect ensemble. However, I do have my favorites. Andre Ward plays the role of Jamal, the dishwasher and handyman at Margaritaville. He is funny, rocks the song Volcano, and brings an exciting energy to the show. I hung out with Andre a week before the show opened and we spoke honestly about people of color relating to this show.
Andre: Well, I will say it’s one of the most diverse casts I’ve ever been in. I want to say almost in my experience - I opened Ragtime here at the Oriental Theatre back in 1998 and you know, that show - by design - is a diverse cast. But since Ragtime, this is one of the most diverse and celebratory cast I’ve ever been in. And not because we’re saying, “We’re diverse,” not because we’re saying, “Look at us, how many different people we have,” just because we are. Just because we are present, and I think that’s what we’re saying, is, “We’re present, we’re here for the celebration, and look at it.” Jimmy Buffett’s music is a celebration. It’s a celebration for all. You know? I only knew Margaritaville, I knew Cheeseburger in Paradise, and let me tell you, Cheeseburger in Paradise is one of the greatest moments in this show, you won’t forget it. Run, do not walk and I say this as a person who didn’t know a lot of Jimmy Buffett music before I started this process, and I have fallen in love again and again doing it.
Andre was so right. The audience, including me was singing along, laughing and totally enjoying ourselves.
Escape to Margaritaville is here in Chicago getting the kinks out (there aren’t very many) before heading to Broadway. The man who wrote the book for Escape to Margaritaville, Mike O’Malley is not only one of my favorite actors but created the television series Survivors Remorse which I can spend hours talking about. I asked him why Chicago is such an important city to prepare for Broadway.
Mike: In Chicago, people love the theatre; they love to go to the theatre. You know if it’s working, if you’re with them, if it’s not working, they’ll let you know. And we want to know what’s not working here too, so we can fix it before we head to New York. We want this to be a show that runs for a long, long time and brings people joy, but what also feels creatively satisfying and of peace with theatre. We don’t just want it to be something that “we strove for this”; we want this to be something that is, “Come hear your favorite Jimmy Buffett songs.
Why write something about Jimmy Buffett and Margaritaville?
Mike: Jimmy Buffett is a guy whose music has resonated with people for a really long time. I think to have that kind of longevity; you really must not only have the ability to write a really good hook, but to write lyrics that resonate with people. And I think that when you’re somebody who’s been writing for that long, who didn’t just have this period of activity when he was in his early twenties, to be still writing songs when he was seventy years old and connecting with audiences, there’s a span of knowledge there and a span of experience that really goes to “How can you tell a story that spans across generations?” Which is what you’re looking for right? You’re looking for something that everyone can relate to. And I think that his craft that has lasted so long was something that I really admired, and I saw it as an opportunity.
Well by the time the beach balls came bouncing into the audience and the surprise performance by Jimmy Buffett (he was only there for opening night so don’t look for him) and everyone was on their feet, I truly felt as if I had been on vacation and made my Escape to Margaritaville.
Escape to Margaritaville will be at the Oriental Theatre through December 6th.
Until next time, keep your EYE to the Sky!