“Margaritaville” Lacks Punch at PPAC

By Kimberly Rau

Jukebox musicals can be hit or miss. At their best (Jersey Boys), an already compelling story can highlight the hits that made the singer or group famous. However, when the story in question is non-existent and the songs are the kinds that really demand you not think too much about the lyrics, it’s often a recipe for doom. Unfortunately, “Escape to Margaritaville,” which launched its national tour at PPAC this week and covers various Jimmy Buffett songs, falls into the latter category. No one should have to pretend to be sincere while singing “A Pirate Looks at Forty.”

The plot is thin and relies on just about every cliché in the book to carry it along. Essentially, she’s a scientist who is taking her best friend to a tropical island for a bachelorette party for two (no, they don’t fall in love with each other, though that would be an entertaining plot twist)…and to collect soil samples. Of course the best friend’s fiancé is a jerk who openly insults his wife-to-be’s weight and insists she eat random foods like sunflower seeds and drink carrot juice (product placement as foreshadowing for Cheeseburger in Paradise later, of course).  Scientist meets Playboy, is repulsed. Playboy is intrigued. She’s Not Like the Other Girls. Best Friend meets Local Idiot, hormones race, but she’s Determined to Do the Right Thing. At some point, everyone winds up shacked up, knocked up, or washed up, and then they throw beach balls at the audience. Oh, and there’s a zombie insurance salespeople tap dance number.

The real shame here is that there are some talented people on that stage, many of whom are making their national tour debuts. The leading man, Tully, the playboy bartender who falls for a buttoned-up scientist, is played by Chris Clark, whose talent and potential is clear. It’s too bad the material doesn’t give him very many opportunities to show it off.

The upshot is that if you are really hankering to hear Jimmy Buffet songs indoors in October instead of in August on the beach, a subscription to a music streaming service is going to cost you a lot less than a ticket to this lackluster show. Better luck next time to the cast and crew, who are clearly giving it their all.

Escape to Margaritaville plays through Saturday at the Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset St., Providence. Tickets may be obtained at the box office, online at ppacri.org, or by calling 401.421.2787

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