It is summertime and you’re lying on a striped chaise lounge on a pristine Caribbean beach watching the calmness of the azure ocean. The palm trees sway softly in the light breeze and as you relax and mellow out to the tunes of one of the most popular folk storytellers of all time. There’s a tacky little bar nearby where it’s always Five O’clock.
But you don’t need to spend a ton of bucks to head to this tropical paradise for that type of diversion. Rather, you can come to Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia to chill during its jukebox musical production of Jimmy Buffett’s Escape to Margaritaville.
You won’t find any sand. There isn’t much of an ocean in the theatre. And there’s certainly no lost shaker and salt. But under the meticulous direction and choreography of Helen Hayes Award winner Mark Minnick and scenic design and lighting by David A. Hopkins as well as Janine Sunday’s costume design, the atmosphere is just right. And with a volcano to boot. (Recall Mount Humongous from SpongeBob SquarePants?)
“Margaritaville,” Buffett’s most popular song of all, spawned a chain of restaurants and bars that has kept that word in the lexicon of American culture. Expectedly, it is performed in Toby’s production of Escape to Margaritaville along with other popular tunes, such as “Fins,” Five O’Clock Somewhere,” “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw” (a title you won’t find anywhere else),”Changes in Lattitudes, Changes in Attitudes,” “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” “Come Monday” (as part of a medley) and a host of others.
To be sure, Jimmy Buffett is a cult-like figure and has been so for over five decades. His fans, known as Parrotheads, are as devoted to an artist as anyone can be. Yet, Buffett’s work transcends those loyal fans as his music has broad appeal in the pop-rock, country-rock, calypso and easy listening genres. His music often conveys an island escapism mindset, and that is evident in the show’s storyline. The performers’ attire as well as that of much of the audience reflects that, too.
Ross Scott Rawlings (alternates with Nathan Scavilla) ably leads the six-piece orchestra split up in two locations in the theatre in backing up the talented lead vocalists and ensemble. Mr. Minnick’s choreography, which is manifested in most of the performed songs, offers the energetic cast the opportunity to strut their stuff. A memorable tap-dance number during the song “Grapefruit, Juicy Fruit” excels. Another well-choreographed number that stands out is the amusing song “Fins.”
Some jukebox musicals are biographical like Jersey Boys (Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons), Tina: The Tina Turner Musical and Ain’t Too Proud (The Temptations). Others use an original story as a vessel to convey an artist(s) work, such as Mamma Mia! (ABBA), and Jagged Little Pill (Alanis Morrisette). Escape to Margaritaville falls into the latter category. The 2017 musical is based on the music of Jimmy Buffett with a book by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley.
The plot, which brings the music to life, is light and heartwarming. It centers on Tully (Patrick Gover), a singer-musician at the bar in the Margaritaville hotel on a small Caribbean island. He performs his music at night and woos the lady vacationers during the day. When scientist Rachel (Kathleen West) joins her bestie Tammy (Anna Phillips-Brown) from Cincinnati just prior to Tammy’s wedding on a bachelorette vacation, Tully sees in Rachel something different, and after a few days of intimacy, he falls in love. But Rachel is not in love with him.
The engaged Tammy who was warned by her crummy fiancée back home Chadd (Brandon Bedore) about “land sharks” and adhering to a diet so that she loses weight before the wedding, meets Brick (Jordan B. Stocksdale), a bartender at the Margaritaville. Brick believes that Tammy is beautiful just as she is but her engagement to Chadd is a major complication.
A wild volcano eruption (why have a volcano if there isn’t an eruption?) sends the vacationers packing and the Margaritaville staff escaping. What ensues, and there is a lot, will not be divulged here so that you can enjoy the twists and turns as you are treated to some wonderful music and performances.
I will say that a bunch of words taken from Buffett’s lyrics find their way into the plot. Examples include sponge cake, tin cup or chalice, shrimp, carrot juice, porch swings. You get the picture.
As the confident and talented ladies’ man Tully, handsome Patrick Gover (Rocky, Ghost, Grease) portrays the role convincingly. Guitar-strumming virtually throughout the production, Mr. Gover’s flat abs provides eye candy for the audience and can sing up a volcano eruption. Exuding charm and passion, Mr. Gover delivers in his solo “King of Somewhere Hot” and in duets with Ms. West in “”Son of a Son of a Sailor” and “Coast of Marseilles.” He also performs in the group opening number, the vibrant “License to Chill.”
Kathleen West as Rachel demonstrates her fine acting skills during her interactions with Anna Phillips-Brown playing Tammy and with Mr. Gover. Her vocal talents shine in the aforementioned duets and in her solo “It’s My Job.” Her duet with Ms. Phillips-Brown in the popular “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” is very well done.
For her part, Ms. Phillips-Brown delivers a knockout performance, and in the second act she literally delivers a knockout punch. Possessing extraordinary vocals, Ms. Phillips-Brown soars in the duet with Mr. Stocksdale “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”
As the bartender Brick, Jordan B. Stocksdale is not just likeable, he is loveable. He conveys authenticity, humor and warmth that has the audience rooting for him. He appears in several group songs and excels in the tap-dance group number “Grapefruit, Juicy Fruit.”
"[Buffett's]music often conveys an island escapism mindset, and that is evident in the show’s storyline."
Veteran actor Robert Biedermann turns in a moving performance as JD, an aging one-eyed pilot who spends his days drinking at the bar (who doesn’t know someone like that?). He adds warmth and humor to the show and sings well in “Grapefruit, Juicy Fruit.” “He Went to Paris” performing with Mr. Gover and Mr. Stockdale and in other group numbers.
Brandon Bedore effectively plays Chadd, the villain of the show, as the boorish fiancée of Tammy who is obsessed by her weight. As a member of the Ensemble as well, Mr. Bedore performs in all of the group numbers and is particularly fun in “Fins.”
Marley is the owner of the Margaritaville and is played deliciously by Asia-Ligé Arnold. She brings a frozen concoction of sass, humor and playfulness to the show and appears in several group songs.
Similarly Anwar Thomas, who plays Jamal, the busboy, adds a lot of joy and energy to the production.
Other members of the cast and Ensemble include Valerie Adams Rigsbee, Joey Ellinghaus, Angelo Harrington II, David James, Amanda Kaplan-Landstrom, Shawn Kettering, Alexis Krey-Bedore, Dustin Perrott, Cassie Saunders, Jeffrey Shankle, and Patricia “Pep” Targete.
Scenic Designer David A. Hopkins and Properties Designer Shane Lowry turned the in-the-round theatre into a realistic looking tacky bar with overhead multi-colored string light and numerous set pieces and props. It added neatly to the atmosphere.
This is an enjoyable production and a wonderful escape for a few hours. Great music, an energetic and talented cast and delicous food make this a nice summer experience. Don’t miss this show. If you do, there is no one to blame, and as the song says, it’s your own damn fault.
Running time. Two hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.
Jimmy Buffett’s Escape to Margaritaville runs through August 20 at Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 4900 Symphony Woods Rd., Columbia, MD 21044. Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at 410-730-8311or visiting online.
Photos: Jeri Tidwell Photography
The menu is shown here.
The specialty drink is "The Coconut Telegraph".
|Patrick Gover as Tully