How Mike O'Malley and Greg Garcia Found Themselves in Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville
Emmy nominee O'Malley and Emmy winner Garcia pen the script for the new musical at the Marquis Theatre.
In the world of television, Mike O'Malley and Greg Garcia are synonymous with comedy. Garcia cut his teeth on shows like Family Matters and Family Guy before creating mid-'00s hits including Yes, Dear, My Name Is Earl, and Raising Hope. O'Malley's career overlaps, starring in Yes, Dear for its entire six-season run and making multiple appearances on Earl. He's best known, at least these days, for his emotional, Emmy-nominated turn as Chris Colfer's dad on Glee.
Now, O'Malley and Garcia are branching out to Broadway as the book writers of Jimmy Buffett's musical Escape to Margaritaville at the Marquis Theatre. Both have a theatrical background — Garcia was an avid theatergoer growing up, while O'Malley, in addition to getting a theater degree from the University of New Hampshire, is the older brother of longtime Broadway vet Kerry O'Malley.
But Buffett has provided them with their license to chill on the Great Parrothead Way, and they are very grateful for the opportunity.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
When you guys were on the set of Yes, Dear, did you ever think to yourself that one day you'd be writing a Broadway musical with Jimmy Buffett?
Mike O'Malley: We weren't really thinking about anything, just because we were having so much fun doing what we were doing. I was acting on Yes, Dear and Greg was doing Yes, Dear and had just won the Emmy for writing My Name Is Earl.
Greg Garcia: But it wasn't long after that that you did something with Jimmy Buffett.
Mike: Right. In 2007, I had written a television pilot for ABC with our friend Alan Kirschenbaum that was inspired by Jimmy Buffett's short stories. That project didn't happen, but Jimmy and his son really loved My Name Is Earl, and it was the seed for the relationship. In the fall of 2013 when they called and asked me to do this, I immediately called Greg.
Greg: And I was like, "What the hell are you talking about?" I'd never written with Mike, so that opportunity sounded like a lot of fun. All of my friends are Buffett fans. My wife's dream is to sing backup at a Jimmy Buffett concert. My son is a theater major. He fell in love with musical theater at the age of three and never looked back. So I knew it would be a great way to have something to bond with him over, which has probably been the best part of this whole experience.
Where did you start in terms of developing a story line and choosing songs?
Mike: There are certain songs by Jimmy Buffett that had to be in it: "Cheeseburger in Paradise," "Volcano," "Margaritaville," "Son of a Sailor." So you can kind of map out where you're going and think, "How does this inspire an original story?"
Greg: One of the things I did is Google bad reviews of other shows, because I wanted to see what the pitfalls were in shows based on other people's music. A recurring theme I read was that people felt songs are just shoved into the plot and there isn't a rhyme or reason for them. So we created characters based on the songs while at the same time thinking of the story. Then we went deeper into the catalogue to look for songs that would bridge the gaps.
Mike: During one of the first meetings that we had, we realized that when you strip down "Margaritaville," it's a song of sadness and regret. It's about a guy who is drowning his sorrows because of some mistakes that he made. I think that was our entry point, because we knew we wanted to tell a boy-loves-girl, loses-girl story.
Greg: My son brought some of his theater friends to one of the workshops, and they're younger and not familiar with most of it, and they said to him, "Were all these songs written for your dad's story?" That was a great compliment.
At what point in this process did your television backgrounds come in handy, and when weren't they useful?
Mike: One of the reasons I wanted to work with Greg on this is having watched him break so many stories at the same time. He had three different shows on television when we started. Having to work with actors and other writers and network executives and getting stories through, and working on those and bringing them to completion, was an incredible training ground for the modern Broadway process of making musicals. We're into our fifth year of working on this musical. We feel like this is the fifth musical we've written, and all of them are about Jimmy Buffett. [laughs]
Greg: When someone looks at the script, they see, whatever, 130 pages. When Mike and I look at this script, we see 10,000 pages. You have to train yourself to realize that this is a long process, where in TV, we just have to get it right just once on film and then we're going to move on.
Mike: In this process, you can fix a scene, but because of whatever, you can't get those changes in until two days later.
Greg: If you're working on a sitcom, you can rewrite a whole second act, rehearse it the next day, and you see it all. We'll have a preview here and we want to change 20 things, but we can only change three at a time, because the music has to change too. Sometimes I sit there, knowing we're changing things, and I want to stand up in the middle of the show and scream, "This song isn't in the show anymore!"
Knowing what you know now, would you do it again?
Mike: I would.
Greg: The only obstacle, I think, is the time it takes.
Mike: I think we would like to do it again, but we tip our hat to anybody who does this day in and day out.