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How Jimmy Buffett's 'Margaritaville' became a musical (soon to be wastin' away at the Dr. Phillips Center)

Matthew J. Palm, Orlando Sentinel on

Published in Entertainment News

Mike O'Malley and Greg Garcia didn't know much about writing a musical. But they knew that they liked Jimmy Buffett. So when the opportunity came to write the story for Broadway's "Escape to Margaritaville," they didn't hesitate.

Well, Garcia had a few questions when O'Malley called with the offer.

"My response was, 'What the ... you talking about," Garcia says with a laugh. "He said, 'Hey, you wanna write the book to a Broadway musical?' I didn't even know what the book was. I said, 'You mean the script?' He said, 'Yeah, they call it the book.'"

Learning the vocabulary of theater was just the beginning for the two men, who had extensive backgrounds in television.

Garcia is an Emmy-winning writer, director and producer who has created and worked on programs such as "My Name Is Earl," "Raising Hope" and "Yes, Dear." O'Malley starred in the latter show and was Emmy nominated for playing Kurt's father, Burt Hummel, on "Glee." He's also a published playwright, wrote for Showtime's "Shameless" and created the Starz basketball comedy "Survivor's Remorse."

O'Malley's experience on "Glee," which featured musical numbers in each episode, gave him some insight into the dedication of musical-theater professionals.

"I've never in all my years in showbiz seen a group of people work harder -- relentlessly -- as that cast," O'Malley says. "Singing, dancing, acting, touring around the world. I think I got a glimpse at how hard the Broadway singer-dancer-actor has to work on a daily basis."

Diving into "Escape to Margaritaville," he quickly learned that it's tricky business to retrofit a story around existing songs such as "Cheeseburger in Paradise," "It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere" and, of course, "Margaritaville."

"When you're working with music and lyrics, it's a completely different animal than when you're writing a TV show," O'Malley says. "Not only was it more collaborative, it was more complicated."

 

O'Malley and Garcia made things even more difficult for themselves by working hard to respect the integrity of the original songs.

"We stuck to the rule that the song has to start the way it always starts, and the chorus can't be touched," Garcia says. "But if you need to throw in some different lines on the second verse to serve the story... Jimmy was great about that."

The romantic-comedy story they ended up with is set in the Caribbean -- island time, obviously -- and involves a singer-bartender who falls for a career-driven tourist.

Much like the relaxed vibe of Buffett's songs, "Escape to Margaritaville" isn't going to tax theatergoers with deep thoughts.

"It ain't 'Les Miserables,'" Garcia says. "It ain't gonna bum you out. You won't have to think too much. People come here to have a great time. That's all we were trying to do."

(c)2019 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

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