NEW YORK — Yes, Jimmy Buffett, it’s your own damn fault.
Oh, I know, you had help in the commission of “Escape to Margaritaville,” the lamely antiseptic musical that had its official Broadway opening Thursday night at the Marquis Theatre. But it’s your songs that book writers Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley have spun into this insufferably dumb show, about a beach bum guitarist who falls for an environmental scientist while his bartender buddy suffers flashbacks filled with tap-dancing life insurance agents. (Yup, you read that right.)
“Escape to Margaritaville” also features, for reasons that won’t be parsed here, leggy clouds sashaying right out of a discarded Rockettes number; a female sidekick who flies on cables to the cheeseburger station at a Cincinnati wedding rehearsal dinner; and enough bad jokes to stock a late-’60s sitcom. Example: “I was addicted to the hokey pokey,” says the bartender, played by Eric Petersen, “but I turned myself around.”
The musical, directed (inexplicably) by Christopher Ashley, who won a Tony last season for his work on “Come From Away,” is built around the Buffett song that practically everyone knows, the especially catchy one that goes, “Wasted away again in Margaritaville.” It’s deployed as the Act 1 finale, and the lyrics are used as such a literal guideline that one of the characters is actually “nibblin’ on spongecake” as the number begins.
“Wasted” was always the operative word in the song; it put you in mind of a hard-luck guy with three days’ stubble getting happily stoned in some Caribbean dive bar. The prim prescriptions of “Escape to Margaritaville” don’t allow for any scene that coarsely colorful. The squeaky-clean tale has the toned playboy, one Tully Mars (Paul Alexander Nolan), falling hard for Alison Luff’s workaholic Rachel after she arrives at the Margaritaville Hotel with bride-to-be Tammy (Lisa Howard). The usual romantic ups and downs follow, and pretty soon Rachel is back in Ohio and pining for Tully, who meantime has become a big-time recording artist, singing Jimmy Buffett ballads and wearing Jimmy Buffett Hawaiian shirts.
I was about to add: And eventually all is right in Margaritaville. But it isn’t. How could Buffett and company, in this fun-starved beach party, so deleteriously have taken their eye off the ball? Oh, speaking of, at the end of the show, hundreds of beach balls are dumped on the audience. One of them ricocheted off the top of my head. It was the only thing all afternoon in the Marquis Theatre that I didn’t see coming.
Escape to Margaritaville, music and lyrics by Jimmy Buffett, book by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley. Directed by Christopher Ashley. Choreography, Kelly Devine; sets, Walt Spangler; costumes, Paul Tazewell; lighting, Howell Binkley; sound, Brian Ronan; orchestrations, Michael Utley; music supervision, Christopher Jahnke. With Don Sparks, Rema Webb, Andre Ward. About 2 hours 20 minutes. $59-$169. At the Marquis Theatre, 210 W. 46th St., New York. Call 877-250-2929 or visit ticketmaster.com.