Though it’s been a while since I attempted to address two shows in the space of one review, the fact that both Actor’s Playhouse’s Escape To Margaritaville and Slow Burn Theatre Company’s Honeymoon In Vegas revolve around the exotic destinations referred to in their titles seemed to suggest an almost too-obvious angle for comparing these distinct theatrical staycations.
While you probably won’t leave either of these shows significantly more enlightened than when you went in, you are likely to find yourself reasonably entertained by either, thanks to a combination of flashy sets and costumes, top-notch South Florida actors, and unchallenging, amusing plots.
Since my first of these adventures was to Margaritaville, I guess we’ll start there! Given that the show’s full title is actually Jimmy Buffet’s Escape to Margaritaville and the show was inspired by the music of the famed singer, most of those who make their way to this show are probably mostly coming for said music—so if that’s your jam, you’re unlikely to be disappointed. The show features over 20 songs from the famous singer’s catalog, and his attitude is perfectly reflected in the laid-back atmosphere of the titular resort where the majority of the show takes place, with bartender Tully even calling “work” a dirty word.
This energy is very much at odds with the usual energy of workaholic scientist Rachel, who’s probably the closest thing to the protagonist of this ensemble piece. She and her gal pal Tammy have come to Mville for Tammy’s bachelorette weekend, which also provides a convenient opportunity for Rachel to investigate the island’s volcano.
However, when flying sparks between Tully and Rachel spiral into a full-blown rendezvous, he is inspired to rethink his lackadaisical approach to life as she finally learns to let down her hair. Meanwhile, romance also blossoms between spunky resort owner Marley and the far older JD, as well as between Tammy and another islander named Brick, who accepts her as she is as opposed to a deadbeat fiancé at home who is constantly trying to get her to change.
Honestly, the rest of the plot stringing these tunes together is one that struck me as a little ridiculous even relative to the oft-flimsy nature of jukebox musicals as a whole. But the fact that the script at least contains some nice nods to body positivity and general female empowerment and presents some passable love stories still made it easy to leave the theatre feeling good.
Set design by Sean McClelland and costumes by Ellis Tillman further set the show’s beach-y scene, and an overall excellent cast gives their all to sell both songs and story. The strong voices of Kareema Khouri and Cindy Pearce also made them particular standouts, as did Kayleen Seidl’s grounded portrayal of her character’s somewhat silly aspirations of powering the world with potatoes (you see what I mean by ridiculous…).
Thus, though saying that this show is in any sense substantial would be rather like suggesting the slice of fruit on your margarita might make it a healthy breakfast, there are also enough genuinely comedic bits and lines and fun-filled musical numbers that the show is likely to quench any thirst for a tropical-themed confection, and you can catch it only until this February 26th!
But if you’d rather try your luck in Las Vegas than spend some time in the sun, you’re also in for quite a wonderful vacation. Inspired by a relatively little known 1992 comedy film, the 2015 musical Honeymoon in Vegas has a lot to offer, including a story that’s easily more engaging than Margaritaville’s if also equally off-the-walls. In a backstory revealed to us in an early flashback, we learn that main character Jack has been unable to propose to his longtime girlfriend Betsy because of the “curse” set by the fact that the dying wish of his psychopathic mother was that he never get hitched.
Things only get more insane from there: when Jack attempts to break the curse yet again and elope with Betsy in Vegas, a mysterious and wealthy stranger named Tommy Korman realizes how much Betsy resembles his dead wife Donna. Tommy then hatches a plan to rig a poker game against Jack, leaves him owing an insane amount of money, and then asks if he can spend the weekend with Betsy as a form of alternative payment in the hopes of winning her over for good.
Nick Anastasia and Company- Photo by Larry Marano
As it happens, the weekend Tommy had in mind was to take place in Hawaii, and Betsy is just annoyed enough at Jack’s persistent failure to commit to agree to the trip and to be a bit intrigued by this seemingly mature older gentleman.
Naturally, Jack follows her, and from there admirably resists the charms of his native Hawaiian tour guide Mahi, who is quite insistent the two of them should begin his stay by making “Friki-Friki.” Though I found the oversexualized character a bit problematic given existing harmful stereotypes about non-white women, Melanie Fernandez sells the hell out of the number, and it did admittedly offer quite a few laughs.
She’s only one of a cast that’s pretty incredible even relative to Slow Burn’s usually high standards: Gaby Tortoledo proves herself as one of the top musical theatre talents in our region in a star turn as Betsy, and is well-matched against Nick Anastasia as Jack, who is able to make the character charming despite his occasionally exasperating behavior.
Meanwhile, Ben Sandomir’s Tommy is both commanding and effortlessly suave, and Dalia Aleman gives a marvelous comedic performance as Jack’s kooky mother, who appears to him throughout the play to remind him of his accursed fate. The rest of the ensemble is about up to par with these leads in terms of talent. Finally, this show is also a visual wonderland thanks to an effective multifaceted set—again by Sean McClelland—and a seemingly never ending array of costumes both everyday and completely fanciful which have been designed by Rick Peña.
Honeymoon in Vegas Company – photo my Larry Marano