World Premiere – Maragritaville

Jimmy Buffet is one of a handful of artists who have been able to transcend their original work and move into various other avenues. By developing his Parrothead following in concerts he has evolved a whole lifestyle brand of restaurants and merchandise. His novel writing added to the aura.

He can now add Broadway-bound musical to his efforts.

“Margaritaville” had its debut at the venerable La Jolla Playhouse, which was simultaneously being recognized with a Tony Award for “Come From Away,” one of the myriad productions launched at the venue. “Margaritaville” is a successful jukebox musical, weaving Buffet’s songs into a surprisingly appealing storyline. Somewhat like “Mamma Mia” before it, the setting is a resort island, a wedding figures in the mix and easily hummable songs glue it together.

The band is perched on stage, under a palapa at the resort, which is a clever way of integrating the musicians. The steel drum figures prominently in the arrangements, adding to the breezy island vibe evoked by the set. Naturally, lyrical references are sprinkled throughout the dialogue like Easter eggs. For instance, visitors to the island were a day earlier ‘freezing up in Buffalo.’

As the tourists arrive, the ubiquitous difference between the brochure and the reality is recurring. And when the cuisine offerings are being scrutinized, a joke flies by about the pronunciation of the food buffet. It was a subtle jibe at the play’s author, giddit?

Later, one of the characters ponders the whereabouts of his shaker of salt, one of the key lines in the title song, which wraps up Act One in fine form.

The cast is uniformly strong, with Paul Alexander Nolan as Tully, the Jimmy Buffet alter-ego. Nolan is amazing. Strong singing voice, deft dance steps and a commanding stage presence. Local theatre veterans will recognize him from his roles in “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and ” Bright Star.” Tully’s love interest is Rachel, played by Alison Luff. She is likewise compelling.

Alison Luff as “Rachel” and Paul Alexander Nolan as “Tully” in La Jolla Playhouse’s world-premiere musical ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE, book by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley, music and lyrics by Jimmy Buffett, directed by Christopher Ashley, running through July 9 in the Mandell Weiss Theatre; photo by Matthew Murphy.

My favorite songs in the production were drawn from early in Buffet’s canon, the wistful “Son of a Son of a Sailor.” Also from early in his career was the insightful “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes.”

Everyone in the audience was wondering how the plot would work in his biggest hit; “Cheeseburger in Paradise” appears midway through Act Two and is cleverly delivered.

I will be curious if the zombie salesmen make it all the way to Broadway (stops are scheduled in New Orleans, Houston and Chicago), they did not really work for me, although they danced well.

Christopher Ashley, fresh off his Tony Award, ably directs the proceedings. Ashley has a deft touch with original musical productions.

I admit I had middling expectations going in to “Margaritaville,” but I was delighted afterwards.

The play has been extended twice. Ticket information available here, including the region’s first mobile ticket lottery, for $20 front row tickets.


Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.