A scene from “Escape to Margaritaville” at the Ogunquit Playhouse. Photo by Nile Scott Studios/Nile Hawver

Folks have long viewed the summer season in the resort town of Ogunquit as a time of escape from the trials of everyday life. It’s just the right place, then, for the regional premiere of a jukebox musical that is all about smiling faces and good times.

The 2017 Broadway show “Escape to Margaritaville,” featuring a bunch of Jimmy Buffett’s Caribbean-flavored country songs spread across a romance-driven book by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley, has begun a lengthy run in the Leary Pavilion on the grounds of the venerable playhouse. Constructed because of the pandemic, the tent-like pavilion seems tailor-made for just such casual entertainment.

Director Richard J. Hinds and choreographer Brandon Kelly have obviously focused on the big numbers that ultimately are what make the show worth a visit. A fizzling offstage volcano and a head scratching appearance by some zombies notwithstanding, it’s a fun musical to gently perk up a laid-back season.

A six-piece band directed by Haley Bennett, divided into two sections and seated above each side of the stage, started up on the steelpan-driven rhythms on opening night as an energetic cast of singers and dancers began to populate a set designed to resemble a ramshackle café on some tropical beach.

As beaming guests come ashore to the island getaway, complications ensue for both the tourists and the regulars when romantic sparks begin to fly. But things burn a bit hotter this time around as environmental scientist Rachel, played by Cailen Fu, arrives to explore the island as well as accompany her soon-to-be-married best friend on one last fling.

Jake David Smith, center, as Tully in “Escape to Margaritaville.” Photo by Nile Scott Studios/Nile Hawver

Local musician/playboy Tully, played by Jake David Smith, becomes smitten with the beautiful but very serious-minded Rachel. It’s “Love and Luck,” sung by both of the fine young musical theater vocalists, that will finally bring them together.


Rachel’s pal Tammy, played by Megan Kane, falls for bartender Brick, played by Matt Wolpe, setting the stage for the many humorous he/she-loves-me, he/she-loves-me-not musical moments that filled the sultry, open-air of the pavilion.

All four principal performers won over the audience on opening night in roles out of a relatable fantasy playbook.

Smith accompanied himself quietly on acoustic guitar to begin the melancholy title song “Margaritaville,” a mega-hit for Buffett. The tune soon blossomed into a stirring ensemble piece to end the first act on a high note.

Megan Kane, center, as Tammy in “Escape to Margaritaville.” Photo by Nile Scott Studios/Nile Hawver

Fu and Kane offer a feminine take on the partying lifestyle with “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes,” while Smith and Wolpe lead in an early ensemble take on the idea that it’s “Five O’Clock Somewhere.” Attractive dancers, in the show’s characteristic downscale resort wear, periodically come alive as the music ebbs and flows.

Some less well-known Buffett ballads tie up loose story ends in the second act of the two-hour show. But the fabric roof of the spacious pavilion gets one more lift with Kane and Wolpe’s tasty take on the gastronomically liberating “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”

Comic and musical performances by Crystal Sha’nae, John Antony and Tyler McKenzie further enliven a show that will likely feed the hunger of many theatergoers for a carefree good time this summer.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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