Escape To Margaritaville

Book by Greg Garcia & Mike O’Malley
Music and Lyrics by Jimmy Buffett
Directed by Lee Buckholz

A review by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.

I’ve said before that jukebox musicals are here to stay. It seems like every year there is a new one announced on or off Broadway; Mamma Mia, The Who’s Tommy, We Will Rock You, Bat Outta Hell, and the list goes on and on. Sometimes the idea works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But I don’t think most people would ever think “Jimmy Buffet and stage musical” in the same sentence.

But here we are. Derby Dinner Playhouse’s current production creates a rather silly story by stringing along a bunch of Buffet’s greatest hits. Not one of the greatest of the genre, but it is dumb fun and enjoyable on its own merits.

Opening on Broadway in 2018, the show tells a rather loose story of a volcanologist (Harli Cooper) visiting a Caribbean island where she meets and romances a part-time bartender and musician named Tully (Dick Baker) just as the local volcano is about to erupt. Colorful characters come and go through the plot, and a lot of shoe-horned Buffet numbers are performed. 

As he usually does (Derby Dinner REALLY needs to give him the lead role more often), Baker steals the show as Tully. Handsome, funny, great singing voice, and plays his own guitar on many of the numbers, he gives some verisimilitude to a paper-thin character. Matthew Brennan is quite entertaining (if obviously a bit too young for the role) as one-eyed aging beach bum J.D., and Amber Mawande-Spytek is his perfect foil as the owner of the Margaritaville Bar and potential love interest.

A very youthful and attractive cast give great performances all around, including some nice moments from the ensemble performers as well, particularly Bobby Conte as a boorish fiancé.

Technical aspects are typically top notch as you’d expect, from Ron Riall’s breezy island set to Alexa Holloway’s lighting and Michael Delaney’s sound designs. Director Lee Buckholz keeps things energetic and Heather Paige Folsom’s choreography is fluid and fun.

It’s not a show that’s going to win awards for originality or for any depth of meaning, but for an evening of dinner theater you can’t go wrong with it. And the irony is not lost on me that we get to enjoy a buffet before watching a show with songs by Buffet. Waste away!

Featuring  Dick Baker, Jillian Prefach Baker, Matthew Brennan, Connor Brunken, Bobby Conte, Harli Cooper, Brittany Cox, Jeff Hines-Mohrman, Chap Hollin, Alex Hunt, Joey Banigan Jones, Sarah King-Bliss, Amber Mawande-Spytek, Paul McElroy, Tyler Russell, Robert Sharkey, Jabriel Shelton, Taylor Thomas, Katelyn Webb, Heaven Williams, & Trent Wong

Escape To Margaritaville

March 29 – May 14, 2023

Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, Indiana 47129

Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 14 years. In June 2019 he launched a new company with Jeremy Guiterrez, Theatre Reprise. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.