June 21 - July 21, 2024
at Gateway Playhouse

The Long Island Advance

June 26, 2024 - Linda Leuzzi

Kick Off Your Shoes, Grab A Margarita, And Enjoy Your Bliss

You know you’re in for a good time when there’s a straw-thatched margarita bar set up in The Gateway’s front courtyard, with nautical rope looping up the railing and vintage boat magazine ads tucked along the side. Then the actors come out and sing songs like “Bring Me Two Pina Coladas” and “Brown-Eyed Girl.” Patrons wearing shorts and flowered shirts jump into the spirit and dance along with the performers, as the cast leads the way inside the theater down the aisles and onstage.

Suspend your imagination. It’s like the best party you ever went to, and that’s what The Gateway’s “Escape to Margaritaville” offers, a hilarious party with sing-along Jimmy Buffett songs, wrapped around a feel-good story and a passionate cast, that debuted Friday night.

So here’s the premise.

Two best friends from Cincinnati decide to take a weeklong vacation to a Caribbean spot that has a volcano. Rachel (Sarah Ellis) is an environmental scientist, serious about her work. Tammy (Katelyn Lauria) is a sweet girl about to marry a condescending jerk who wants her to lose weight.

Upon arrival, the friends realize the Margaritaville Hotel is not the lux place they anticipated, but the staffers lighten up their disappointment. There’s guitar-playing entertainer, hunky Tully (Cody Craven), who has his eye on Rachel but is afraid of commitment, and bartender Brick (Hunter Brown), who makes a beeline for Tammy. Soon, the women catch the “don’t worry, be happy” atmosphere.

And so does the audience.

Hunter Brown is brilliant as the goofy but kind Brick. He steals the show, as does Katelyn Lauria’s Tammy. Brick is as pun-loving and sweet as Tammy. The kick line he does on the top of the mountain with a volcano about to blow, joined by a chorus of dead insurance agent zombies who died in the last lava flow (a recurring fear he has), is over the top. When his anxiety starts to dissipate, they begin to disappear. But then, he starts missing them. “Wait! We can order some Outback Steakhouse!” he calls out.

(You can’t make this up! But someone clearly did.)

Catch this duo in “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” It’s what Tammy wants to eat at her subsequent rehearsal dinner; she’s tired of dieting, but her fiancé tries to stop her.

He doesn’t want a fat wife. Oooh! Wrong move, dude!

We’ll stop here, but the “Cheeseburger in Paradise” number is an over-the-top, boisterous hoot.

Gateway artistic director Paul Allan provided a little insight into the main characters. Sarah Ellis (Rachel), who has a wonderful voice, was the lead in “The Wedding Singer.”

“We had Sarah picked for this role. [Director/choreographer] Keith Andrews had done this musical in Northport and I liked his cast, but I immediately thought of Sarah,” he said.

Cody Craven as Tully plays the amorous but likeable singer, a philosopher with a surprising vulnerable side, and you wind up rooting for him.

“We had to find the right person,” Allan explained. “His character is heavy on guitar playing. So he had to be very charismatic, good looking, sing, play the guitar and act, and all that’s hard to find. He comes from California and auditioned via video tape.”

The whole cast and orchestra rocks it, with some you’ll recognize from other Gateway shows, but we have to mention Broadway veteran Bill Carmichael as J.D., the one-eyed beach bum (looking for his lost treasure) with a surprisingly tender heart who delivers almost spiritual observations when not drinking; and Ebony Marshall-Oliver, another Broadway and Off-Broadway actor, as Marley, the sassy, funny owner of the hotel. They play mature characters in a will-they, won’t-they tug of war.

There’s a gratifying message plunked into the riotous zaniness. And that is, realize your dreams, but don’t forget about love and having fun. That was Jimmy Buffett’s mantra. While he sadly died last year, Buffett was well-liked, generous, and his laid-back, tropical rock sound resonated with a generation (think Parrot Heads). He inspired enjoying life and following your passion, and his success lassoed over 30 albums—several gold and platinum—several restaurants and other businesses. His music even made it to Broadway.

There are 24 songs, including “License to Chill,” “Margaritaville,” and “Why Don’t We Get Drunk” (think of your college days with that one.)

The finale is uproarious.

Don’t forget to dodge those beach balls!

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Broadway World

June 27, 2024 - Melissa Giordano

Judging by opening night and the excitement of the Parrot Heads in the audience, it's you may want to get your tickets quickly, folks.

The Gateway Playhouse of Bellport, Long Island, magnificently carries on with its exhilarating 75th season, presenting a delightful rendition of Jimmy Buffett's Escape to Margaritaville. This production is indeed the ideal way to kick off the Summer season on Long Island. Judging by opening night and the excitement of the Parrot Heads in the audience, it's you may want to get your tickets quickly, folks.

The production, running through July 21st, features the remarkable music of the late, great Mr. Buffett and a charming book by Greg Garcia and Mike O'Malley, with direction by Keith Andrews, a Gateway vet. It centers on Rachel, played by Sarah Ellis, and Tammy, portrayed by Katelyn Lauria, who set off on a BFF Caribbean vacation before Tammy's wedding. Along their journey, they encounter a host of intriguing characters, but it's their meeting with Tully, played by Cody Craven, and Brick, played by Hunter Brown, that forms one of the central story lines.

Rachel, a dedicated scientist known for her workaholic tendencies, meets Tully, a charismatic entertainer at the resort, while Tammy hangs out with Brick, a bartender at the resort. The entire cast displays great chemistry, clearly enjoying their roles in the show. Ebony Marshall-Oliver is also particularly notable as Marley, the resort's owner. Special kudos also to Bill Carmichael who is absolutely hilarious as JD, the resident beach bum.

As extraordinary as the cast is, the clever creative team is brilliant as well.

Jordan Janota's set is excellent. The main entertainment centre of the resort and the vicinity of a volcano are some of the locales we visit. This is elevated by Kim Hanson's atmospheric lighting and the stunning costumes by Janine Loesch. The wonderful orchestra, led by Jake Turski, seamlessly performs the iconic songs with panache and Ashley Klinger's choreography is incredibly entertaining.

And so, Escape To Margaritaville is certainly a must see as we head into the Summer here on Long Island. Also encouraged for this show is to have fun with your outfit. After all, this is a Jimmy Buffet show. Great music, a joyous production, and a wonderful cast make for a fun night of theatre.

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Fire Island and Great South Bay News

July 5, 2024 - Cindi Sansone-Braff

“Escape to Margaritaville” Gives You a “License to Chill!”

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.

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Dan's Papers

July 3, 2024 - David Taylor

The Gateway's 'Escape to Margaritaville' Is a Mesmerizing Musical for the Masses

The Gateway’s latest theatrical production is Escape to Margaritaville, the jukebox musical written by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley based on the music of late Sag Harbor music legend Jimmy Buffett. Unsurprisingly, a show utilizing the catalogue of the tropical rock icon comes with a built-in audience — namely Buffett’s devoted fanbase, affectionately known as “Parrotheads” — but Margaritaville is more than a love letter to those fans, it’s a wildly fun experience even for viewers unfamiliar with the source material.

Best described as a romantic comedy, Escape to Margaritaville focuses on two main pairings, alike in their “will they, won’t they” setup but uniquely enthralling beyond that. On a pre-wedding girls’ trip from Cincinnati to the Caribbean, bright-eyed bride-to-be Tammy and her best friend Rachel, an environmental scientist researching biomass energy, check in at the run-down Margaritaville hotel and are taken aback by the staff, specifically the handsome, smooth-talking Tully and his goofy sidekick Brick. While Tammy and Brick hit it off almost immediately, the betrothed intends only to flirt and not to cheat on her fiancé, Chadd. Meanwhile, Tully initially comes off as a womanizer with his target this week set on Rachel, who wants nothing to do with his flirtatious shenanigans.

The way in which the romantic pairings are introduced adds a surprising bit of tension to this light-hearted island romp and shapes how each audience member engages with the story — rooting for one possible ending or another. Will Tammy lead Brick on and ultimately cheat on her fiancé? Considering Chadd’s tendency to fat-shame Tammy and ignore her feelings, should she break off the engagement? And what of Rachel, who is dedicated to her potentially world-changing research? Will she eventually give in to Tully’s unrelenting advances? Even if the beach troubadour’s feelings prove genuine, should the workaholic Rachel really abandon her goals for a relaxing life with him?

The chemistry of The Gateway’s actors makes these questions all the more complicated to answer. Both Katelyn Lauria as Tammy and Hunter Brown as Brick are the funniest characters on stage in any given scene, and together they are utterly hysterical. They play up their similar comedic styles — running around with childlike whimsy and cracking absurd puns — while also emphasizing their character quirks, such as Tammy’s exaggerated guilt-laden lust and her unquenchable thirst for adventure, frequently sabotaged by her low stamina, and Brick’s general dumb-as-bricks vibe and hyper-specific fear of dancing zombie insurance salesmen. On the other side of the love triangle, Brendan Coulter as Chadd takes each of the few scenes that he’s given to stack on evidence that the shallow “dude bro” may not be right for Tammy — or for anyone.

The captivating dynamic of Sarah Ellis as Rachel and Cody Craven as Tully is one of polar opposites. Rachel is hardworking and prioritizes her perceived duty to humanity over self-care, while Tully is laidback and enjoys self-indulgent pleasures without worrying about things he can’t change. As he begins to overcome her rejections with his Carolina charm, it seems as if the show is painting his mindset as the correct one and expecting her dedication to science to dissipate at the first sign of romance. Instead, the second act finds a compromise that best serves each character’s wants and desires.

In terms of this musical’s jukebox element, the songs of Jimmy Buffett fit into the tone and narrative of Margaritaville flawlessly and seldom feel out of place or shoehorned into a scene — a rare accomplishment in the jukebox musical genre. As the resident troubadour, Tully serenades the audience (beachgoers in the context of the play) with velvety renditions “Son of a Son of a Sailor” and “King of Somewhere,” and songs like “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw” sung by Bill Carmichael as JD feel right at home in a setting where hotel guests are drunk on margaritas. Even the iconic “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” which easily could’ve been thrown into a filler scene where a character randomly orders a burger, is made into a triumphant anthem marking the completion of Tammy’s arc and the payoff to a plot point established in the show’s second scene.

The romantic chemistry of the play’s leads shines in duets including Tammy and Brick’s “We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us About” and Rachel and Tully’s “Three Chords.” And the strength of the supporting cast is evidenced by some of the production’s most memorable numbers, such as “Volcano” sung by Patrick Saint Ange as Jamal and Ebony Marshall-Oliver as Marley.

From curtain to the final bow, much of the choreography in The Gateway’s Margaritaville is entertaining but relatively simple — the delightfully over-the-top “Cheeseburger in Paradise” performance and Brick’s Rockettes-inspired dance notwithstanding. However, the show saves its grand, showstopping full-company number until after the cast takes their bow, so audiences should keep that in mind when timing their standing ovation. As with all jukebox musicals, the music is the star of the show, and Escape to Margaritaville is elevated by the powerful vocal delivery of its performers and by the soothing sounds of steel drum and guitar. It’s like paradise for the ears.

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