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Jimmy Buffett-based musical comes to Las Vegas

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January 07, 2020 By Jason Bracelin

It took a few years, but the coconut bra is finally coming to The Smith Center.

Along with probably a little more parking lot pre-gaming than you’ll find at “The Nutcracker.”

Definitely a lot more brightly colored Hawaiian T-shirts suggestive of a gathering of tipsy rainbows.

Maybe even some flip-flops, despite the January chill.

Who cares about the cold? That’s what the rum is for.

So it shall be when “Escape to Margaritaville” comes to Las Vegas.

A musical based on the songs of Jimmy Buffett, the production has been seeing his fans, those notorious Parrotheads, flock to the theater in full regalia.

“They come in, man, and they dress up,” says “Margaritaville” music supervisor Christopher Jahnke. “The Parrotheads who want to come dressed up, they should. You don’t have to dress like you think you should when you’re going to the theater. This can be that experience.”

A spirited songbook

Said experience is predicated upon the boozy escapism of Buffett’s songbook, where the world is seen through the lens of a just-emptied shot glass, his repertoire warming the blood in unison with said spirits.

Written by Greg Garcia — who created sitcoms “Yes, Dear,” “My Name Is Earl,” “The Guest Book” and others — and actor-writer Mike O’Malley — whose credits include “Glee,” “Shameless,” “Parenthood” and more — the narrative follows a pair of tourists, Rachel and Tammy, who vacation at Margaritaville, a seen-better-days hotel in the Caribbean.

The pair engage in various exploits with Magaritaville staffers and regulars in a production that’s part love story, part whimsical comedy, all Jimmy Buffett, incorporating nearly two dozen of the singer’s sun-and-rum-soaked songs.

“They created a story that basically ‘explains’ everything you hear in the lyrics of ‘Margaritaville,’ ” Jahnke says of Garcia and O’Malley. “By the time you get to ‘Margaritaville’ in the show, all the little quirks of the lyrics have kind of been planted in your head the whole first act — the lost shaker of salt, the tattoo — every lyric within the context of ‘Margaritaville’ has been subtlety set up. By the time you hear the song, the lyrics actually become punch lines.

“They’ve created a story that feels very Jimmy Buffett, of his spirit, and it makes the songs pay off in a different way than you’d imagine they would.”

Drink-heavy debut

Four years in the making, “Margaritaville” debuted in San Diego in the summer of 2017 — “We broke all the box office records and the alcohol records,” Jahnke chuckles.

Stops in New Orleans, Houston and Chicago followed, with a stint on Broadway beginning in February 2018.

The touring production launched in September.

Through every incarnation, Garcia and O’Malley’s goal has been to stay true to the toes-in-the-sand spirit of Buffett’s catalog and the kind of jovial/soused reaction it generates among his massive following.

“They understand the fans’ sense of humor. I think that’s huge,” Jahnke says. “There is a whole goofiness of going to a Buffett show and all the tailgating beforehand. They get there at 8 o’clock and they drink all day. They’re out in the parking lot. It’s like going to a Grateful Dead show, except everybody’s drinking beer and there’s Mercedeses and BMWs in the parking lot.”

However, the idea is not just to cater to those who know “Cheeseburger in Paradise” by heart.

“When you’re inventing something that we all know is iconic, it’s a very delicate balance, to really appease the fans and also to engage a brand-new audience,” Jahnke says. “Working on ‘Margaritaville’ felt like working on something that has existed iconically in the past, and now we’re just trying to reimagine it, to create a piece that the die-hards love and will see all the tiny nuances, and then people who don’t know Jimmy Buffett will also like it. We’re not making something just for the fans.”

‘Feels like Jimmy’

They are making something, though, expressly in the image of Jimmy Buffett.

What’s he like?

Well, what do you think?

“There’s just nobody cooler than Jimmy Buffet. He’s infectious,” Jahnke says. “He walks into the room and there’s just joy.

“I think the show feels that way,” he continues. “It comes from the top, man. The whole show feels like Jimmy.”


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