Theater / Film

Review: Actors’ Playhouse Has a Ball Turning Miracle Theatre into ‘Margaritaville’

Written By Michelle F. Solomon
February 7, 2023 at 12:30 PM

Jordan Bell, Cindy Pearce, Sam Sherwood and Kayleen Seidl in “Jimmy Buffett’s Escape to Margaritaville” at Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre. (Photo courtesy of Alberto Romeu)

While it may have been fitting for Actors’ Playhouse to celebrate its 35th anniversary by presenting the musical the company started with, it certainly wouldn’t have been as much fun.

It was Feb. 3, 1988, when its first production, “Man of La Mancha,” opened in a converted Kendall movie theater – a space where the company would perform for its first seven years until its move to the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables in 1995.

Thirty-five years to the day, on Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, Actors’ Playhouse marked its anniversary not with Don Quixote, but with a character on a different quest. There’s only one pursuit for Tully Mars (Sam Sherwood, who has magnetism and charisma, plus musical talent to boot) and the rest of the cast  in “Jimmy Buffet’s Escape to Margaritaville” – to maintain their “license to chill.” And for Mars, it’s no impossible dream, it’s his reality.

Kayleen Seidl as Rachel and Sam Sherwood as Tully in “Jimmy Buffett’s Escape to Margaritaville” at Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre. (Photo courtesy of Alberto Romeu)

The plot follows the guitar-slinging ladies’ man who sings at Margaritaville’s hotel bar on a Caribbean island. Vacationers stream in and out but the island workers and a barfly named J.D. (the ultra-talented Stephen G. Anthony getting the laughs as the guy who keeps losing his shaker of salt) are ever-present.

Marley (the affable Kareema Khouri whose comic timing is impeccable) runs the place with the help of Jamal (Elijah Word proving he can play any character he’s given). Behind the bar and always ready to concoct an island special of the day: Tuesday’s “Sex on the Beach” or Wednesday’s “Mountain Dew Me” is Brick (Jordan Bell, gifted with the juiciest comic role in the show and maximizing every opportunity with aplomb).

While women have obviously come and gone, none stealing Tully’s heart, it takes a level-headed scientist, Rachel (Kayleen Seidl, who has the most difficult task as the only character who takes anything seriously), whose only purpose to visit the island is to collect dirt and celebrate her best friend, Tammy’s (Cindy Pearce, a perfect fit as the bride-to-be), last few days of single womanhood before getting married. They’ve left Cincinnati for the trip but not before Tammy’s future husband, Chad (Jeremy Sevelovitz) has fat-shamed her into packing only carrot juice and sunflower seeds for the trip so she can squeeze into the wedding dress he has waiting – she’ll need to drop a whole size in a week to fit into it.

Stephen G. Anthony and Kareema Khouri in “Jimmy Buffett’s Escape to Margaritaville” at Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre. (Photo courtesy of Alberto Romeu)

Like the typical jukebox musical, the storyline only exists to service the songs; sometimes the book writers succeed, but oftentimes the segues fail.

Brick reaches for something to eat after the girls go and he’s lovesick– it’s sponge cake. Cue the song: “Nibblin’ on sponge cake, watching the sun bake,” the opening lines to “Wasting Away in Margaritaville.” The biggest diet cheat comes in the form of an anthem to the deliciousness of a cheeseburger in “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” which somehow turns into a female liberation anthem.

Dramatic action in “Margaritaville” is a volcano eruption, a hidden treasure, and dancing insurance salesman zombies, this particular oddity saves itself from falling flat when it turns into a kick line fantasy of Brick’s, complete with sparkly gold costumes (top hats off to costumer Ellis Tillman) and some spectacular tap dancing (another set of hats off to choreographer Ron Hutchins). Triple hats off to Bell as Brick whose high-kicks rival any Rockette in a number that brings the musical to new heights.

The score features some 25 Buffett tunes (all probably under 3 minutes), including some new songs written for the show as well as his most famous hits from “Fins” to “Volcano” to “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw?” (this complete with audience callback built-in) all played by a spectacular on-stage band of nine musicians led by conductor Nick Guerrero.

Jordan Bell as Brick surrounded by the ensemble in a tap-dancing number from “Jimmy Buffett’s Escape to Margaritaville” at Actors’ Playhouse in the Miracle Theatre. (Photo courtesy of Alberto Romeu)

Director David Arisco chooses to give the characters hearts and souls instead of coasting along as window dressing for songs and he’s assembled a cast that’s willing to dive right in.

Sean McClelland captures the vibe of the beachy keen island retreat creating almost a picture frame of the surroundings and lighting design by Eric Nelson keeps everything sun-drenched. Shaun Mitchell’s sound design captures the island environment and when the volcano is ready to blow, there isn’t a doubt it just may.

It’s a guilty pleasure to enjoy “Margaritaville,” escapist fare that Actors’ Playhouse obviously picked purposefully in an effort to celebrate their occasion. It’s a way to ease audiences back into the theater post-COVID. Face it. Who wants “La Mancha?” Dig out the Hawaiian shirt, throw on a pair of flip-flops and get lost in island time for a while.

WHAT: “Jimmy Buffett’s Escape to Margaritaville”

WHERE: Actors’ Playhouse production at the Miracle Mile Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables

WHEN:  Performances 8 p.m., Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday. Through Sunday, Feb. 26.

COST:  $$55, $65, $75, $80, $85, $100

INFORMATION: 305.444.9293 or actorsplayhouse.org

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