Escape to Margaritaville: The perfect escape

Escape to Margaritaville: The perfect escape
The cast of Escape to Margaritaville. Photo: Matthew Murphy

   What if there was a way you could escape the cold, the carjackings, the political rants and tweets...even for a couple of hours?

Actually, there is. It's called "Escape to Margaritaville" currently playing at the Oriental Theatre for a limited 3-week pre-Broadway engagement.

Wednesday night was cold, damp and windy on the streets of Chicago, fairly typical for a November night in the Windy City.

But just a few steps off Randolph St. inside Broadway in Chicago's Oriental Theatre, it was a whole different world.

Imagine a tropical island far from the maddening cold with palm trees, sandy beaches, and a tiki bar offering drinks including "Sex on the Beach" and you've got all the ingredients for paradise.

The paradise, called Margaritaville, has become the Jimmy Buffett brand since the song took on a life of its own after its 1977 launch.

The global lifestyle, rooted in fun and escapism, has grown into a multi-million dollar business with themed stores, restaurants, hotels and now "Escape to Margaritaville," the musical slated for Broadway featuring 27 classic songs of Jimmy Buffett.

To say this Buffett-style musical is an escape we need right now, with the laundry list of  bad news happening 24/7, is to say it all.

The opening night crowd was hyped, the Parrot Heads were dressed in their Hawaiian shirts, some with leis while the working press and fans battled it out with TV cameras and smartphones to position themselves to get the best shot of the man.

Jimmy Buffett plays the crowd at the pre-Broadway opening of Escape to Margaritaville in Chicago. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

   Jimmy Buffett plays the crowd at the pre-Broadway opening of Escape to Margaritaville in Chicago. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

The book from TV world's Greg Garcia (“My Name Is Earl”) and Mike O’Malley (“Shameless”) is fun. It's not dramatic literature nor is it intended to be. It's just as the title says, "Escape to Margaritaville."  

You'll hear "It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere," "I Play for Gumbo," “Come Monday,” “Volcano,” “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” "Margaritaville" and the other 21 songs that move along the predictable plot.

The fictional story centers around the misadventures of three couples as they navigate their relationships, the now and the future.

Couple one, Tully (Paul Alexander Nolan) and  Rachel (Alison Luff). Tully is a singer/musician at the run-down island resort (named “Margaritaville”), who lives in the now--with a new relationship each week.

Paul Alexander Nolan as Tully and Alison Luff as Rachel in ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE.. Photo: Matthew Murphy

Paul Alexander Nolan as Tully and Alison Luff as Rachel in ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE.. Photo: Matthew Murphy

Then there's Rachel (Alison Luff), the exact opposite of Tully--a nerdy, hard working environmental scientist bent on discovering a new kind of fuel. When the two meet things ignite proving that opposites do attract.

Couple two, Tammy (Lisa Howard) and Brick (Eric Peterson). Tammy who was ushered to the island for her bachlorette party by her best friend Rachel is doing her best by trying to stick to her pre-wedding diet of carrot juice and sunflower seeds ordered by her fiancé back home in Cincinnati while trying not to "cheat" on either her diet or husband-to-be as she is becoming more and more attracted to Brick (Eric Peterson), who likes her just the way she is.

Eric-Petersen-Brick-and-Lisa-Howard-Tammy-in-ESCAPE-TO-MARGARITAVILLE.-Photo-by-Matthew-Murphy

Eric-Petersen-Brick-and-Lisa-Howard-Tammy-in-ESCAPE-TO-MARGARITAVILLE.-Photo-by-Matthew-Murphy

The third relationship involves two longtime residents of the island: the "hot" Jamaican hotel owner, Marley (Rema Webb), and J.D. (Don Sparks), the 76-year-old widower and adventurer who mostly drinks beer and talks about his buried treasure somewhere on the island while trying to romance Marley.

Margaritaville6Don-Sparks-JD-and-Rema-Webb-Marley-in-ESCAPE-TO-MARGARITAVILLE-Photo-by-Matthew-Murphy

Margaritaville6Don-Sparks-JD-and-Rema-Webb-Marley-in-ESCAPE-TO-MARGARITAVILLE-Photo-by-Matthew-Murphy

After the show came to its happy, storybook conclusion, the opening night audience was treated to a post-show concert with Jimmy Buffett and the cast.

Here's a look:

Although the show could use some tweaking before hitting Broadway--the bones are there. The show starts a little slow out of the box, it's uneven at times but explodes by the second act. The voices, the set, the costumes and all of the songs are first rate.

Unless you are a grinch, I dare you not to walk out of the show with a smile on your face--and feeling just a little better about the world.

Check out some of Chicago Eats dining suggestions that should put you in the mood before going to the show.

Escape to Margaritaville

Rating: 2 1/2 stars (could easily add another star with some tweaking)

Tickets:  Tickets are available at all Broadway In Chicago Box Offices (24 W. Randolph St., 151 W. Randolph St., 18 W. Monroe St. and 175 E. Chestnut), the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Line at (800) 775-2000 and online at www.BroadwayInChicago.com.  For more information, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.

Where: Oriental Theatre (24 W. Randolph)

When: now through December 2

Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

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