The temperatures in the Valley may still be scorching hot, but “Escape to Margaritaville” at the Madison Center for the Arts is one cool production that whisks the audience away to island time. The Broadway musical comedy revolves around the hits of Jimmy Buffet and includes show-stopping numbers including “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” “Margaritaville,” “Fins,” “Volcano” and “Why Don’t We Get Drunk.”
The story follows Cincinnati girlfriends Rachel, a relatively strait-laced environmental scientist, and Tammy, a bride-to-be with some misgivings and a streak of cheekiness, who go on an island escape to the Margaritaville Hotel. Although the hotel has seen better days, the island vibe is alive and well. At Margaritaville, the liquor flows, there is always a fun dance number and a cast of colorful and engaging supporting characters that introduce viewers to a life more extraordinary on the island.
While interacting with guests, Rachel and Tammy meet Tully and Brick who both work at Margaritaville and slowly, but surely their individual love stories unfold in different ways as the ladies spend their week discovering the island and enjoying their time away from their everyday life.
Beach bum and island pilot J.D. is always looking for his lost shaker of salt, regaling hotel guests with stories of buried treasure and is known to be a bit of a lothario where the ladies are concerned. His rendition of “Why Don’t We Get Drunk” has an audience participation component that lets everyone sing “the naughty word” of the song. On opening night, the entire audience enthusiastically embraced the opportunity!
Just when things are getting interesting at Margaritaville hotel, an active volcano necessitates an island evacuation and panic ensues as guests and hotel staff escape via boat. Instead of evacuating, J.D. disappears back into the jungle and Tully and Brick run off to find him. J.D. does indeed have buried treasure which reveals itself to be a chest full of photos, journals and memories that reveal surprises about his past life. J.D. grabs his “treasure” and flies Tully and Brick to safety, culminating in a flight that takes them back to Cincinnati. But all is lost back on the island as Margaritaville Hotel is ultimately claimed by the volcano.
In Cincinnati, Tully and Brick reunite with Rachel as Tammy and her betrothed, Chadd are having their rehearsal dinner. Let’s just say the wedding gets called off as told through the song “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”
As the play fast forwards a few years, the audience learns what becomes of the two couples who met at the Margaritaville Hotel, exactly how the hotel gets rebuilt and how everyone winds up back on the island for the wedding of Tully and Rachel.
In a unique use of musical talent, the live “Escape to Margaritaville” band is cleverly incorporated into the large outdoor island cabana on the stage and includes a full ensemble of musicians.
With a book by Emmy Award winner Greg Garcia (“My Name is Earl,” “Raising Hope”) and Emmy Award nominee Mike O’Malley (“Survivors Remorse,” “Shameless”), “Escape to Margaritaville” is a delicious island romp that had the audience singing along and dancing in their seats. Opening night garnered an absolutely deserved standing ovation.
The choreography of “Escape to Margaritaville” is fun and energetic with a dash of sexy. In a departure from the typical, the musical also includes a fantastic tap dance number in the second act. I can’t recall the last time I saw a tap dance in a musical, and how this one unfolds, and the story behind it is quite amusing.
Remarkably, “Escape to Margaritaville” has never been seen in Arizona until now. Executive Director at the Madison Center for the Arts, Ari Levin sought to include the musical gem in the curated first Broadway season at the Madison Center for the Arts.
“Escape to Margaritaville” is the second offering in a full Broadway season of programming at the Madison. Remaining performances run 7:00 p.m. Friday, September 17, 1:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Saturday, September 18 and 1:00 p.m. Sunday, September 19 at Madison Center for the Arts at 5601 N. 16th Street, Phoenix, 85016. Individual and season tickets are available at themadison.org.