Attention Parrotheads! Next fall, Chicago will see the pre-Broadway tryout of “Escape to Margaritaville,” the new musical celebrating the mellow musical catalog of Jimmy Buffett, the phenomenally successful touring artist and entrepreneur who has parlayed his long-lived niche of laid-back, geezer-friendly, party-centric rock into a pan-American lifestyle brand.
No shaker of salt required — although Buffett’s website has them for sale.
“Chicago was the first city in which I gained recognition outside the South,” the 69-year-old Buffett said in an exclusive interview Monday night. “And it was Steve Goodman who turned me into a lifelong Cubs fan. I could not be more delighted the show is headed there.”
The Oriental Theatre in Chicago won’t actually be the show’s first stop — there will be a smaller, regional outing at the La Jolla Playhouse in California this spring, where the director of “Margaritaville,” Christopher Ashley, is the artistic director. “It is our hope,” Ashley said, “that this show will make you feel like you have been invited to a party. We want to attract the Parrotheads, sure, but also the people who might know only one or two of Jimmy’s songs.”
Those hits — most of which evoke sundown (or later) at a bar on a Caribbean beach — include the titular ode to the heart-mending qualities of frozen beverages, a song so popular Buffett turned its melancholy lyrical stoicism into a restaurant chain. There also are “Cheeseburger in Paradise” eateries, drawing on another Buffett signature number. Other hits expected in the show include “Son of a Son of a Sailor,” “A Pirate Looks at Forty,” “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes,” “Come Monday” and “Why Don’t We Get Drunk?,” as concise as any expression of the hakuna matata Buffett gestalt.
All of these songs — and three brand-new numbers that Buffett said he already penned but that none of his fans yet have heard — will be part of a new story by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley featuring a light romantic plot. “It’s about the relationship between a guy living in the now and a woman who wants to use her life to make a difference,” Ashley said, articulating a dilemma likely felt by many Buffett fans, especially those who seek out another.
As “Mamma Mia!” did with Abba, the familiar Buffett hits will be woven into the cocktail.
“I didn’t want to write it,” Buffett said (although he has written three bestsellers). “I am too deep in the forest of it all. I felt like we needed to go outside of the Broadway community and find writers who also are fans. So we chose two guys best known for TV comedy, who also were brought up on my music.”
Buffett’s cross-generational appeal is likely to be an advantage for the show — Buffett has been performing since the early 1970s and his concerts typically attract at least three generations of fans, with strong appeal to both genders. He has never relied on radio to build an audience, but instead has toured along mostly the same circuit followed by Broadway shows, building his intensely loyal fan base one concert at a time.
“I basically said to Greg and Mike, ‘here are the songs I have to play on stage or get killed,’ ” Buffett said. “And then I told them to pick out a few more. The show will be pure escapism based on 40 years of a pretty successful musical career and the lifestyle that grew out of it. I was not going to suddenly write something that did not pertain to a guitar player in a bar.”
Hurricanes at intermission will be de rigueur. Shows in Chicago begin Nov. 9, 2017. However, single tickets are not yet on sale and Broadway in Chicago said are no plans to change the usual curtain times to five o’clock.