The death of singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett hit Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse, Rock Island, especially hard.
After hearing Saturday morning of the music mogul’s death at 76 from skin cancer Friday, Sept. 1, the cast and crew of Circa’s “Escape to Margaritaville” (which opened July 14) faced its final week of performances of Buffett’s 2018 musical.
Cameron Nies plays the lead in “Escape to Margaritaville,” and the show’s Facebook group started to talk about it Saturday morning, Sept. 2.
“We just couldn’t believe it — it all hit very, very hard and quick,” Nies said Tuesday morning. “But we immediately wanted to do something in our show for him because obviously our show — while it is created by him and has his songs in it — more than just that, it’s his way of life that kind of shines through the show.”
They decided to record a voiceover that plays before each remaining performance to have the show pay tribute specifically to Buffett’s memory.
“It just dedicates the show to the life and legacy of him,” Nies said, and they also added a photo of Buffett and his guitar on the stage bar.
The Saturday night Circa performance was extra special and meaningful, he said.
“It was an experience like no other for me as a performer. It was the first time that we had everybody standing up at the end of the show, which is very kind uh for them to do that,” Nies said of the audience. “That was a great collective moment.”
Before that performance, the cast stood together and listened to that voiceover message happen “and just realized why we were doing that specific show,” Nies said. “And then once we got started, the way that the crowd was responding to us and the energy that was being given in that room made it a very, very special night.”
“The pre-show, everything, the show that night was electric. It was great,” he said.
Buffett (who died at Sag Harbor on Long Island, N.Y.) had been battling Merkel cell skin cancer for four years, which the National Cancer Institute describes as a rare carcinoma which usually appears as a single painless lump on sun-exposed skin and tends to metastasize quickly. It is second to melanoma as the most common cause of skin cancer death.
“You’re still doing a show. And if anything, it just wants you to be able to give that performance more earnestly and more honestly, because what I think people might not know coming into it is how Jimmy Buffett can also be a little bit poignant and very introspective about some of his music,” Nies said, citing songs like “He Went to Paris” and “Death of an Unpopular Poet,” which go beyond his philosophy of a carefree lifestyle celebrated in the show.
“I think our show provides a nice backdrop of showing both sides of Jimmy Buffett — one most people know, which is the carefree, island escapism lifestyle. But also coming together with the introspective and just really looking back on your life that he has as well,” he said.
Treasuring his rich life
Nies wasn’t a huge Buffett fan before the show, but he’s become one now.
“I’m a big fan of ‘70s music and laid-back folk rock anyway,” he said Tuesday. “So this was a nice departure for me to go down this road of discovering his music. I’m a big fan of singer-songwriter type music as well. So it was easy for me to get into him, but I was not a big fan before this show, but I’m happy to be now.”
He also admired how the man built a billion-dollar business empire based on “Margaritaville” (his biggest hit from 1977), and Nies wants to visit one of the resorts.
“What started as just a way of life and a way of thinking, turned into a business as well, which it’s so funny how much that coincides with how our show operates too in terms of the story,” he said. “It shows that you can have the ideals that you want, but you need to have some way to get them as well. And he is the perfect example of how that came together. Now that being said, I need to go to one of the real Margaritavilles in real life.”
Any show creates a new family, but since Saturday, this one is even tighter, Nies said.
“Especially after that day, for sure, we’ve gotten very close to the cast and crew because we’ve done the show for an extended period of time on this contract. But with that news happening, it definitely did bring us closer together,” he said.
Fortunately, Nies won’t have to leave this tropical paradise, as Circa director Amy McCleary cast him again as understudy for Tully (playing Chadd) in the Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre (Lancaster, Penn.) production of “Escape to Margaritaville,” which starts rehearsals “come Monday,” Sept. 11, 2023. Those performances will run Sept. 22 to Nov. 11, 2023.
The director sent a message to the Circa cast.
“Obviously, she couldn’t be here, but she did give us some words of encouragement – ‘Put on a good show,’ which hopefully we did and I’m sure she’s hard at work on the next Margaritaville as well, which will be a tribute to him just as much as this one is,” Nies said.
Parrot Heads reaction
The Quad City Parrot Head Club (QCPHC) brought a big group to see the show during the run, and many members turned out for the Sept. 2 performance, the actor said. After Buffett’s death, the club posted on Facebook:
“It is with great sadness to announce the passing of Jimmy Buffett, the inspiration of this club and Parrotheads around the world, at the age of 76.
“Jimmy passed away peacefully on the night of September 1st surrounded by his family, friends, music and dogs. He lived his life like a song and will be missed beyond measure.
“Our lives are forever changed by what this one man brought to the world. The way he inspired all of us to bring out the tropical side in all of us. The fun we had and will continue to have because of this great singer and legend, as well as the charity that we have done in his name, will be just a part of his legacy.”
On Saturday, Oct. 7, the QCPHC will have a 20th-anniversary member appreciation party at Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds, Davenport.
Tickets are $20, available HERE. The party (including dinner and dancing) is in Keppy Hall at the Mississippi Valley Fair, 2815 W. Locust St.
“Escape to Margaritaville” will continue at Circa (1828 3rd Ave., Rock Island) with two performances Wednesday, Sept. 6, plus Friday, Sept. 8 and a final show Saturday, Sept. 9. For more information, visit Circa’s website HERE.