Morgan Unger and the cast of ‘Escape to Margaritaville’ bring Jimmy Buffett fun to Dr. Phillips Center

By : Jeremy Williams
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We may be heading into the holiday season, but this week it is all tropical getaways and beach weather at the Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando as the Fairwinds Broadway series presents “Escape to Margaritaville,” the Broadway musical based on the songs of Jimmy Buffett.

“Escape to Margaritaville” was first performed in San Diego in 2017 and is based on a book by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley. The show played in New Orleans, Houton and Chicago before making its Broadway stage debut in Feb. 2018.

The show follows two young women, Rachel and Tammy, on one last big trip to a Caribbean island before Tammy gets married. There they meet Tully and Brick who both work at the rundown hotel, Margaritaville.

Ahead of the show’s performances in Orlando, we had the chance to speak with ensemble cast member Morgan Unger. Unger, a graduate from the Dance Theatre Conservatory Program of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) in New York, returns to Orlando after spending time here as a member of the original production of Disney Cruise Line’s “Beauty and the Beast.”

So grab yourself a margarita — the Dr. Phillips Center will have them on draft for the show — and read what Unger loves most about being a Parrothead.

Morgan Unger

Where did you grow up that?

I’m originally from the small town called Coshocton, Ohio. I grew up dancing in a small town and I was lucky to have a really great support system. I decided that I did want to pursue this as a career.

I moved to New York when I was 18 and did a two year conservatory program called AMDA I loved my experience there. It opened up so many new doors for me. I didn’t do much theater before moving to New York, so that was kind of a whole new experience when I started studying theater rather than just dance. My last semester at school, I booked a contract with Disney Cruise Line and I worked with them for a little under a year.

We love Disney here.

I spent a lot of time in Orlando and at the parks on our days off when we were off the ship. I was part of the original cast of Disney Cruise Line’s “Beauty and the Beast.” I was a member of the ensemble. I was really grateful for that experience.

Recently, I did the “Elf” national tour last winter, so this show is my second tour.

You mentioned that you started off as a dancer and got into theater after you entered AMDA. Were you drawn to dancing as a child or is that a passion that you develop later in life?

I have been dancing since I was a little under two. I grew up in the studio. I had older sisters who danced and they inspired me. I love sharing with the audience and being able to express my stories through my body rather than just my words because I think, at least it was for me, it’s very easy to get choked up as a kid and feel under pressure when you’re being asked questions or being asked to speak, so I think dance was kind of my way to just be free and expressive, and I’m really grateful for that.

I did realize it’s not as easy to have a career just in dance so that’s why I was kind of drawn to AMDA because I was able to have voice lessons and theater history and multiple things that were teaching me more about the whole industry, rather than just my dance career.

You were in the national tour of “Elf” last year and we’re heading into the holiday season, are you someone who gets excited about the holidays and did that excitement increase or lessen in being in “Elf”?

Christmas, to me, was always interesting because my parents divorced when I was at a very young age. So it never felt like we could get everyone together, it was never negative, but it definitely was always difficult. So being able to participate in “Elf” and bring this amazing, beautiful story about bringing families together, it honestly changed everything for me. My cast was amazing and the creative team was phenomenal in making us feel like we were bringing the holidays to people that may not necessarily have that at home. It was it was a it was a beautiful experience.

I definitely loved Christmas before but my Christmas experiences are definitely a lot stronger now and I definitely feel like I get more excited for this time of year from having “Elf” be a part of my career.

You’ve gone from the winter landscapes of “Elf” to the tropical climate and beach fun of Jimmy Buffett’s “Escape to Margaritaville.” For those who aren’t familiar, what’s this show about?

We like to say if you don’t get to go on vacation, this is your opportunity. You get to get away from everything that’s going on in this world and just relax for a little over two hours.

The story is about two females from Cincinnati, Rachel and Tammy. They’re both really hard working girls and, one of them is about be married, so they decide to get away to an island and let down their hair. There they meet Tully and Brick, two guys who work at this hotel called Margaritaville.

What I find really interesting are the stories that are shared through this show. It is an original story and it features all of your favorite Buffett song, and even some new songs. I think that the writers did a wonderful job making the storyline flow so well with his music. Each lead has their own dream and you get to follow them through the experience of figuring it out for themselves. Of course, there’s some love stories throughout it and it’s really interesting to see how each character opens up in this world and you find out what inspires them and their dream. I think that’s really important right now.

I play an ensemble member in the show. I’m doing a lot of dancing, a lot of tourist things in the background, it’s a lot of fun. I get to have so many new moments on stage and make different character choices, and honestly it’s just one big party and, in the end, it sends this beautiful message that you don’t always have to go the route that you think you do.

Were you a big Jimmy Buffett fan before you came on board for the show?

It’s funny because I was not. I only knew some of his most popular songs, and I was a little afraid when I went into the audition, but you surprise yourself when you hear his songs how many of them you actually do know. Once we started rehearsals, I realized I knew more than I thought I did and it was awesome.

Have you had an opportunity to meet Jimmy Buffett?

Yes, he is totally involved. He has stopped by a few times and it’s amazing. He said to us from a young age he was always inspired by musicals. His mother performed in “My Fair Lady” growing up, so he was really inspired by theater. This is one of his things that he’s really very proud of and I’m just so excited that this show is able to be shared everywhere across the country. Not everyone can come to New York City and experience a Broadway show so I think that it’s really important that we’re able to go out and share this.

Growing up from Ohio, I never would have imagined being able to play 42 cities at 22 years old. I’m truly grateful for my experience and everyone that supported me through it for sure.

What’s something that you think would surprise people that you’ve learned about Jimmy Buffett?

He’s pretty much an open book, but I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that he is so inspired by his audience. He loves to share so much with his audience and I think people don’t understand how much that means to him, and other performers as well. When we get to a new state or new theater, and we get to experience these audience members that are singing along with us and dancing, it just brings so much energy and so much positivity to our cast. I think he would agree with that, that people don’t often realize how much energy they’re bringing back to the people that are performing for them.

You mentioned how many cities you all go to when a part of a national tour. Do you ever get a chance to get away and check out the cities you perform in?

Yes, and I’m really excited to get to Florida and spend some time out in the sun. I like to hit up local brunch spots, that’s kind of my thing. I’m hitting up some really new places for me that I’ve never been. So I’m really excited about that.

I worked for Disney with the cruise line and I spent a lot of time at the Disney parks when I was there so I think I may check out some of Universal and I’m looking forward to reconnecting with some of my Disney friends. I’m really excited about just getting some sunshine.

See Morgan Unger and the rest of the “Escape to Margaritaville” cast in the Walt Disney Theater at the Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando through Nov. 17. Tickets start at $49.50 and are available at DrPhillipsCenter.org.

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