February 28, 2020

Jewish Actress Brings ‘Escape to Margaritaville’ to the L.A. Stage

Sarah Hinrichsen and Chris Clark in “Escape to Margaritaville.” Photo cby Matthew Murphy

From “Mamma Mia!” and “Beautiful: the Carole King Musical” to “The Cher Show” and “Jagged Little Pill,” jukebox musicals built around the songs of pop music icons have been a big draw on Broadway in recent years. 

“Escape to Margaritaville,” featuring the music of Jimmy Buffett, ran on Broadway for four months in 2018 and is now on a national tour that begins a three-week run at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on Feb. 18.

With music and lyrics by Buffet and a book by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley, the show takes place at a rundown Caribbean island hotel called Margaritaville, providing the setting for a pair of romances between scientist Rachel and bar singer Tully, and their respective best friends Tammy and Brick. In her first touring company role, Sarah Hinrichsen, a native of Upland, Calif., and a graduate of the Orange County School of the Arts, plays Rachel. 

Speaking with the Journal from an earlier California stop in Palm Desert, Hinrichsen said she was eager to perform for a hometown audience and family and friends. “My parents are born and bred Californians who grew up in downtown L.A.,” she said. “Getting to come home is a huge gift.” 

She has been with the show since its launch in Washington, D.C., in October and will be on the road through August, although the run may be extended. “It’s been a learning process for sure, but I really love it,” she said. “Our cast is a huge family and everyone is so kind. We’ve been places I would have never gone if it hadn’t been for the show.” She cites Disney World in Orlando and Bing Crosby’s childhood home in Spokane. “And it’s nice to see family and friends in different cities, who I wouldn’t get to see if I was home in New York. Overall, it’s been a dream come true.”

“It’s two hours of high-impact, energetic fun. You are going to have a good time. And you’ll be surprised how many Jimmy Buffett songs you know.” —Sarah Hinrichsen

After attending an open call, Hinrichsen attended a series of callbacks for casting, production and ultimately, Jimmy Buffett himself before landing the role of Rachel. She had seen the show on Broadway the year before, but it wasn’t until she started to learn the songs that she “realized I knew them better than I thought I did.” Among her songs are “It’s a Job,” “Son of a Son of a Sailor” (a Rachel-Tully duet), and ensemble numbers “Changes in Attitudes, Changes in Latitudes” and “Margaritaville.”

Getting to know Buffett has been a welcome perk of the job, she said.  

“He’s everything you want him to be. He’s so funny. He’s the nicest guy in the entire world.” She added that he’s “pretty hands-on” with the show. “We joke that there must be six of him, because he’s touring, he’s an author, he’s working on this show. He’s been to quite a few of our rehearsals. He surprised us a couple of times on the road and played in the finale. It’s definitely exciting when he’s around.”

Hinrichsen also expressed enthusiasm for her character, an overworked scientist who is working on a method to turn potatoes into a clean energy source. “I think she’s one of the coolest women in the musical theater canon. When she meets Tully, a bar singer without a care in the world, they have to find a balance between work and play,” she said. “They learn so much from each other.” 

They’re also physically a good match. Standing 6 feet, Hinrichsen is grateful that 6-foot-4 actor Chris Clark was cast opposite her.

A career in the theater has been Hinrichsen’s dream ever since she first saw her parents, a director and an actress, at work in productions at the Candlelight Theater in Claremont. Her first role was at age 6 in “Carousel.” “They said, ‘She’s going to be here anyway so we might as well put her in the show,’” she said. She acted in productions from elementary school through college. She then moved to New York and landed roles off-Broadway and in regional theater. 

Hinrichsen was raised in her mother’s Jewish faith, and has fond memories of celebrating Hanukkah and Passover with her maternal grandparents. While at college in Oklahoma City, Okla., she went to a latke festival with a theater professor who was active in the Jewish community. Judaism “is an important part of me. I don’t even realize how deeply rooted it is in me because it’s always been such a big part of my life,” she said.

Hinrichsen hasn’t played a Jewish character yet, but “Fiddler on the Roof” is a dream show for her, as is Anna in “The King and I” and Jo March in “Little Women.” “I did it a couple of years ago in summer stock and I’d love to play her again before I age out of it,” she said.  “ ‘Wicked’ was the show that made me realize I wanted to do this so I’d love to do that someday,” she added, mentioning its star Idina Menzel as one of her role models, along with Audra McDonald and Jessie Mueller.

Having ended a relationship before the tour began, Hinrichsen joked that she’s “married to the show right now. It’s tough being on the road, but it’s an exciting career because things can change so quickly and you never know what to expect.” 

As for “Escape to Margaritaville” audiences’ expectations, she promises “two hours of high-impact, energetic fun. It’s a love story. You’re not going to leave questioning the existence of the universe, but you are going to have a good time. And you’ll be surprised how many Jimmy Buffett songs you know,” she said. “It’s the perfect show for our environment right now. With what’s going on in the world, it’s the perfect escape.”

“Escape to Margaritaville” runs Feb. 18-March 8 at the Dolby Theatre.