Joshua Logan did it after WISH YOU WERE HERE had opened to terrible reviews.
Gower Champion also did it – but many months after HELLO, DOLLY! had debuted to raves.
And the powers-that-be connected with ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE should consider doing what these two directors and their writers did – that is, continue work on a musical even after the opening in order to make it better.
After all, there’s no statute of limitations on improving a musical. There’s still time while it’s still running.
So here are some suggestions for director Christopher Ashley, bookwriters Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley – and, while we’re at it, composer-lyricist Jimmy Buffett.
1—Send your engaged woman on vacation much earlier. You have bride-to-be Tammy and best friend Rachel traveling to Margaritaville six days before the wedding. No woman that close to The Big Day — only 144 hours until her walk down the aisle – would dare to leave town then, for many last-minute details and crises could pop up. If Tammy needs a vacation, she’ll get one of six days (or more) AFTER her wedding on her honeymoon.
2—Margaritaville is not a logical place for an overweight bride-to-be to vacation. Tammy’s fiancé Chad demands that she lose weight; she promises that she will. So why would she choose a hedonistic locale where food and drink are readily available and temptingly plentiful?
I know, I know: Margaritaville MUST be visited in order to accommodate Jimmy Buffett’s catalogue. Then don’t make weight an issue; find some other conflict that can divide Tammy and Chad.
3—We’re glad when Tammy meets Brick, a happy-go-lucky bartender who likes her just the way she is – and likes her puns, too, which you’d wisely told us earlier that Chad can’t bear. But once Tammy and Brick marry and move to her hometown of Cincinnati, he becomes a postman. Why not keep him a bartender, a job he loves, instead of putting him in the occupation that’s considered so deadly that the expression “going postal” is synonymous with mental illness?
4—Don’t make Brick a slacker where fatherhood is concerned. No sooner is their child born than he’s avoiding diaper duty, which is already annoying Tammy. How much time will pass before they have a rip-roarin’ fight over it? Make him a father who thinks nothing of this so that we’ll believe the baby will bond the two, not separate them.
5—After Rachel meets Tully, a Margaritaville guitarist, don’t try to make us prefer his outlook on the world to hers. You’ve characterized Tully as an easy-going slacker who’s so sure he has the right attitude toward life and Rachel doesn’t. (“Put that phone away.”) Now Tully would have a better argument if Rachel were in a job she hated every day and only did because she thought it worth the struggle to achieve power, prestige and money. That’s not what you’ve written, happily enough; you’ve done an excellent job in making Rachel not just an ambitious career woman, but also one with exemplary goals. She’s environmentally minded and wants to make a difference in the world. Don’t encourage her to trade in her superior values for Tully’s lesser ones. Let’s honor the workaholics more than the alcoholics. The road to true happiness in life isn’t capitulating to wasting time and asking “Why don’t we all get drunk and screw?” (Besides, alcohol doesn’t help create erections, but inhibits them.)
It may well be loving what you do for work.
6—Don’t have Rachel and Tully desperately in love after one week in an island paradise. Everyday life is far more complicated than relaxing on a vacation. So handsome Tully may seem to be the love of Rachel’s life — and he hers too — when the surf’s high and both of them are, too. But how will they do when everyday responsibilities rear their many complicated heads? A week in an island paradise where work isn’t a factor is hardly a good indication of a successful long-term marriage. Besides, the way the relationship is now, it is, to quote Cole Porter, “a chemical reaction, that’s all.”
7—After Rachel leaves Margaritaville, rethink her relationship with Tully. As you’ve set it up now, three years pass before they see each other again – but you have them marry very quickly. People who have been together only six of the last 1,101 days don’t know each other well enough to tie the knot.
Avoid well-worn lines such as the one Rachel says to Tully about her success: “I wish I had someone to share it with.”
The real problem remains that a person can greatly change in three years – especially a man who’s become an award-winning recording star in the interim. That plot turn brings up another issue:
8—After Tammy and Rachel leave the island, set up better how Brick and Tully find them. As of now, they go to Cincinnati and immediately find the women in a bar. How? There are hundreds upon hundreds of bars in Cincinnati. All you need do is have Rachel or Tammy tell Tully or Brick ‘Margaritaville is even more fun than the Northside Tavern back home in Cincinnati!’ Then you can justify their finding them right there.
9—Rethink Tully’s lucking into a superstar career. You set up in Act One that Tully loves playing for his own sake, but, oh, when he has the opportunity to be discovered, he’ll take it. That Tully just happens to be overheard while playing for his own amusement in a bar – and having a big shot overhear him and catapult him to success — is a shopworn device.
Having Rachel encourage him to succeed may also seem a little old hat, for we’ve seen the concept of “behind every great man there’s a great woman” many times, most recently in ONCE. Still, that would be more arresting than an agent coming out of the blue with a business card and a smile. Besides, we’re more invested in people who EARN their success than ones who simply luck into it – which is why we admire Rachel for working for the rewards she gets.
10—If you insist on Rachel and Tully’s marrying, have her tell Tammy about it. You have Tammy and Brick only learning about the wedding when every other guest does — through an invitation in the mail. Because Rachel does send Tammy and Brick airline tickets, one could argue that she wanted the gift to be a surprise. Still, best friends tell best friends the moment they’re engaged, and Rachel would undoubtedly make one of her first phone calls to Tammy.
11—Get Tammy into the wedding party. When we see the nuptials back on the island, there’s no evidence of either a Maid of Honor or a Best Man. Even Margaritaville can’t be that casual.
12—Deliver on the jokes you set up. We anticipate that one is coming when geezer J.D. starts a complaint to innkeeper Marley (that’s a woman) that “This beer is so stale” –
Yes? How stale is it? We assume we’re about to hear a funny comparative metaphor. But all J.D. does is finish the sentence with “It’s undrinkable.”
There are better jokes to be had.
13—Examine more carefully your word usage. In referring to J.D.’s naiveté, Marley calls him a “blind fool.” J.D. wears an eyepatch over his right eye which he’s apparently lost. Now would you call someone with that affliction “blind”? Under these circumstances, wouldn’t you go out of your way NOT to say the word “blind”?
14—Convince Buffet to write some new songs. Most contemporary theatergoers enjoy a Greatest Hits Jukebox Musical, but they might also enjoy hearing a new Buffet song, too. Notice that when such Broadway musicals as THE SOUND OF MUSIC, DAMN YANKEES, FUNNY GIRL and THE MUSIC MAN went to Hollywood, their songwriters penned one or two new songs for the films.
Here’s an idea for one: Tully mentions to an islander how he’s come to feel about Rachel: “I don’t think I like her anymore.” We know he’s lying – but then comes the additional part of the statement that shows he’s more self-aware than we’d assumed: “Because,” he says, “I’m in love.”
Now that’s a song cue! Because Buffett has never written a song on that subject, the line just sits there while we savor the possibility of a song. Have Buffett musicalize that moment – and have him look for other spots for songs, too.
To all concerned: ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE may well meet with success, for it will appeal to workadays who loathe their jobs and yearn to “get away from it all.”
Some will feel that I’ve missed the entire point of the show. They’ll say that “escape” is the key word and the show simply aims to take us away from our troubles and cares for a couple of hours. Sure – but as movie exec Buddy Fidler says in CITY OF ANGELS, “Nothing was ever hurt by being improved.” Why not make it better than it is?
True-blue Buffett fans are called “Parrotheads” in honor of the parrot hats they wear when attending one of their hero’s concerts. The name is particularly apt in this context, for parrots can only repeat what they hear – just as the cast parrots Buffett’s songs –and not say anything that genuinely comes from their brains.
Gentlemen, take off the parrot hats, use those heads that are underneath them, return to work and create a really fine ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE