Stage Review: Kent Trumbull’s ‘Margaritaville’ Offers an Escape

WARREN, Ohio – “Escape to Margaritaville” – now getting its local premiere at Kent Trumbull Theatre – is a fun and feel-good musical that refreshes like a beach-town getaway.

It’s based on the songs of the late Jimmy Buffett, who died this year, and is infused with his island-time vibe.

Like most jukebox musicals, it doesn’t have a super-heavy plot – although it’s a tad meatier than you might expect. Most importantly, the script isn’t overly diluted with silliness like some in this genre.

The story largely takes place in a tumbledown resort hotel on a tropical island, where the employees and regulars blend in with the endless stream of vacationers. A fresh batch arrives every week, and barroom guitarist Tully, played by Harmon R. Andrews, and bartender Brick, played by Jose Garcia, are there to show them a good time. Although both men keep it light as a rule, they are hiding from their emotional woes. They keep reality at bay with sunshine and tequila.

Harmon R. Andrews and Bethany Yamaner in a scene from “Escape to Margaritaville” at Kent Trumbull Theatre.

As a code of conduct, they never get attached to any of the vacationing ladies; each affair ends with the departing flight. But that changes when Rachel (Bethany Yamaner) and Tammy (JoJo Garcia) arrive.

This foursome comprises the core of the show, and the actors who play them are a sturdy support system.

Andrews gives his Tully character the laid-back confidence of a troubadour in his element. He’s got the zen cool of a professional partier. The role also requires Andrews to play guitar and sing, and he does that superbly multiple times.

As Brick, his shot-pouring and cheerful sidekick, Jose Garcia adds the right amount of sincerity to a character who is permanently on shore leave.

As Tammy, JoJo Garcia is bursting with life. With a voice that never needs a microphone (the actors do not wear them, even though some should), she adds a bubbly spirit to every scene. Her character pairs well with Brick.

The soon-to-be married Tammy arrives with Rachel on a bachelorette weekend. She is ready to let her hair down, so the level-headed Rachel assumes the role of chaperone.

Rachel is a highly driven scientist who wants to save the world and doesn’t let anything get in the way of her goals. She puts intellect first, which makes for a touching scene when she has to tell the smitten Tully that they just aren’t right for each other.

Yamaner stays restrained in the role. When love finally does blossom, it’s still a calculated decision for her ­– but that’s what makes her changeover realistic.

There is a third love story here, and although it’s between two secondary characters, their story also comes with a heartwarming lesson.

Ron Wolford is excellent as J.D., the aging pilot who is always sitting at the bar, somewhere between half-lit and blacked out. Wolford is a strong actor who propels this subplot.

Jacqueline Shannon plays Marley, the hotelier who presides over this motley crew. With a Jamaican accent, Shannon gives the character the no-nonsense style necessary to run a business when all the customers and employees are there for the party. But she can’t always conceal her affection for them.

An indispensable element of the production is the six-piece band that occupies the barroom stage throughout this music-laden show. Led by Matt White, it deftly handles Jimmy Buffett’s time-honored tunes but can also mimic a steel drum band when needed.

“Margaritaville,” written by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley, premiered on Broadway in 2018. Eric Kildow is the director of Kent Trumbull’s production.

Scenic designer Kenzie James gets credit for the tiki bar set, and lighting designer Cord Ramsey for the erupting volcano. Emelia Sherin is the choreographer, and there is a lot of movement.

The spirited ensemble consists of Jonathan Bahrey, Adam Garon, Aset Jones-Bey, Jessica Marsh-Taylor, Sherri Mauyoros, Kat Roman (who is also dance captain), Dakota Smith and Emma Woodyard.

“Escape to Margaritaville” will continue with shows at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10-11 and 16-18; and 2 p.m. Nov. 12 and 19. It runs four nights per week instead of the usual three, for a total of eight performances.

Tickets are $20 ($17 for students and seniors; $15 for children under 13), plus fees. To purchase in advance, click HERE.

Pictured at top: Jose Garcia and JoJo Garcia in a scene from Kent Trumbull Theatre’s production of “Escape to Margaritaville.”

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