Read about NYC's best theatre and dance productions and watch video interviews with innovative artists
Lisa Howard finds romance and self-love in the new Jimmy Buffett musical
At first, much of Escape to Margaritaville at Broadway's Marquis Theatre is what you would anticipate from a musical inspired by the laid-back, feel-good, country-Caribbean songs of Jimmy Buffett ("Cheeseburger in Paradise," "Come Monday," "Why Don't We Get Drunk"). There are beach balls, barefoot actors clad in bathing suits or Hawaiian shirts, and massive frozen cocktails -- both onstage and in the audience. But underneath the revelry is an unexpected feminist message. Who knew a woman's journey to self-acceptance would mix so well with catchy tunes and tequila?
At a shabby island resort named, you guessed it, Margaritaville, Tully (Paul Alexander Nolan) is the hotel's resident musician/heartbreaker while his buddy Brick (Eric Petersen) tends the beachside bar. When no-nonsense environmental scientist Rachel (Alison Luff) and her funny BFF Tammy (Lisa Howard) arrive for the latter's bachelorette getaway, the guys fall hard and fast.
It's not really a spoiler to reveal that everything turns out swell -- this is unapologetic escapist entertainment after all. And yet Tammy feels fuller than comic-relief characters usually do because she's got a lot more going on beyond wisecracks. Her life is complicated: She loves her fiancé but he treats her poorly and insists she lose weight before they get married. When she meets Brick, who laughs at her corny jokes and likes her the way she is, she gains a new perspective on herself.
"I love that you get to see Tammy evolve and grow into a person willing to stand up for herself," says Howard. "This is a transitional moment in her life where she realizes her self-worth. It's so nice that the audience gets to watch her find her own value and develop a backbone."
Howard is best-known for her Drama Desk-nominated performance as the put-upon, plus-size older sister of the bride in It Shoulda Been You. Although the screwball musical comedy didn't last long on Broadway, the actress had a showstopper in Act II, "Jenny's Blues," in which she stood up to the haters and owned herself as a sexy, sensual woman.
She undergoes a similar transformation in Margaritaville and, once again, it's refreshing to watch an insecure character who's not a size 2 realize she's strong, desirable, and deserving.
"One of our jobs as artists is to tell stories that speak to the times we live in," says Howard. "Yes, this is a feel-good musical. But women are coming into their power on a global scale right now. The more that this is represented in art, the more women will be comfortable standing up and finding their confidence. It all goes hand in hand."
But it's not just full-figured ladies who'll leave the theatre feeling fine. Howard believes Margaritaville has an important moral for everyone about the necessity of work-life balance. "If you're a person who works all the time, I hope this shows that it's OK to take a breath," says Howard. "Or if you're a person who's always living that 'Margaritaville' life, maybe there's a dream you have that you should get serious about chasing after. Or maybe you're like Tammy and you need to stand up for yourself more often. The show is a great time but, hopefully, after you've had a margarita, it will encourage you to reflect, too."
Top image: Lisa Howard in Escape to Margaritaville. Photos by Matthew Murphy.