ARTS & THEATRE: “Escape to Margaritaville” Gives You a “License to Chill!”

Cody Craven and Sarah Ellis.
Photo by Jeff Bellante.

The Gateway’s latest production,  “Escape to Margaritaville,” is the perfect way to jumpstart your summer. This 2018 Broadway jukebox musical features Jimmy Buffett’s laidback island tunes with a book by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley. Bromance, romance, and sisterhood abound in this beach party bonanza that invites you to leave your troubles behind and bask in sheer “island escapism.” Buffett’s beloved classics, “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes,” and “License to Chill,” perfectly sum up this “Don’t worry, be happy” philosophy.


Plan to arrive at The Gateway early to grab a “frozen concoction” at the outdoor tiki bar. Then, sit back and relax on the lovely patio, where beach-attired cast members will entertain you with your favorite summer hits. Feel free to dance, hang loose, and enjoy what feels like a mini vacation on some far-off tropical island.


When you enter the theater and see the festive Caribbean set by Scenic Designer Jordan Janota, things heat up. The band is already onstage playing as the ensemble, colorfully clad, hosts a lively before-show singalong.


This high-energy musical comedy centers around the relationship between Tully (Cody Craven), an easygoing resort-island singer/bartender, and Rachel (Sarah Ellis), an uptight environmental scientist. With his stellar vocals and musical talents, Craven rocked the role of Tully. His solo, “King of Somewhere,” was one of the show’s high points. Sarah Ellis gave a riveting performance as a headstrong woman hellbent on saving the planet. The onstage chemistry between Craven and Ellis was hot, hot, hot throughout. Ellis’s powerhouse rendition of “It’s My Job” was sheer perfection. They aced their duets, “Three Chords,” a catchy tune written for the show, and “Son of a Son of a Sailor,” an obvious favorite that had the audience joyfully clapping and singing along. Their moving rendition of the beautiful ballad “Coast of Marseilles” was a memorable onstage moment.


With her funky island accent and sassy attitude, Ebony Marshall-Oliver was outstanding as Marley, the no-nonsense manager of the rundown Margaritaville Hotel and Bar. Bill Carmichael stole the show with his hilarious depiction of J.D., an aging but likable drunkard, who chases after Marley to win her over. Marshall-Oliver and Carmichael’s duet, “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw,” encouraged audience participation and was one of the show’s highlights.


Hunter Brown, a world-class comic, was perfectly cast as Brick, a big-hearted, burnt-out bartender and professional beach bum. One standout comedy scene has Brick experiencing a hallucinatory “flashback,” where he meets up with a group of dancing zombie insurance salesmen. Brown also happens to have strong vocals, which he showcased throughout the show. Katelyn Lauria brought her A-game to the part of Tammy, Rachel’s spunky but insecure best friend. Tammy is about to get married but falls head over heels for Brick. Lauria and Brown delivered an unforgettable rendition of  “We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us About.” Brendan Coulter, with his macho body language and cocky swagger, was believable as Tammy’s controlling, rude, and loud fiancé.


This frothy musical comedy has some noteworthy themes, such as finding a balance between work and play, living in the now, and learning how to “Breathe in, Breathe out, Move on.”


The versatile, superstar ensemble includes Brendan Coulter, Kimberley Hudman, Josh Alvarez, Carly Caviglia, Steven Gagliano, Danielle Cooper, Josiah Hicks, Taylor Erin Wade, Jose Contreras, Anna Chase Lanier, and Courtney Echols. Their top-notch dancing and vocal skills made the big group numbers like “Fins,” “Margaritaville,” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise” total showstoppers. One of the most electrifying numbers was “Volcano,” featuring Patrick Saint Ange as Jamal. Ange is a charismatic performer with the most expressive eyes and facial gestures. With the volcano ominously smoking in the background, every time he sang, “I don’t know where I’m-a gonna go when the volcano blows,” the audience exploded into laughter.


Keith Andrews, director and choreographer, associate director and choreographer Ashley Klinger, and musical director Jake Turski are a mega-talented team of creatives whose attention to detail made this show a summer must-see.


You don’t have to be a Parrot Head to enjoy “Escape to Margaritaville.” Treat friends and family to the hottest show in town, which runs through July 21, 2024. To purchase tickets, contact the Box Office at 631-286-1133 or visit