From time to time I like to pull a disc from the back reaches of my theater shelves. I like to spread the word of things the rush of recent releases might obscure. Staying current with new releases can keep you from some of the delights of the past – especially those which had significant negatives as well as marvelous positives and, as a result, didn’t reach the success or fame that would keep them in the spotlight. Don’t Stop the Carnival is just such a mixed bag from the past. It has enough strengths, however, to make a couple of listens a refreshing return to previous pleasures.
In 1998, Jimmy Buffett’s record company, Margaritaville Records, released what must be categorized as a “studio cast recording” of the score of the musical that Buffett wrote with none other than Herman Wouk, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Cain Mutiny Court Martial. Don’t Stop the Carnival was based on Wouk’s 1965 novel which told the story of the mid-life crisis of a New York City mover and shaker who chucks it all to set up shop in a Caribbean paradise, the fictional island called Amerigo.
The show got a one month production in Miami’s Cocoanut Grove Playhouse in 1997 where it met with commercial and critical disdain, even while the infectious nature of Buffett’s songs was acknowledged. Said the Orlando Sentinel’s Elizabeth Maupin, the show had “enough splash to entertain troops of Parrotheads, but also (had the) missteps you might expect from two men who had never written a musical before.”
The production had a cast headed by Michael Rupert, whose Broadway credentials go back to his childhood stint in Kander and Ebb’s The Happy Time and which, by the time Don’t Stop the Carnival opened, included Sweet Charity and Falsettos. He went on to create the role of the insufferable professor in Legally Blonde. The cast included other people with Broadway credits such as Zero Mostel’s son Josh and Susan Dawn Carson.
None of these, however, are on the recording that Buffett prepared. On this disc, the role of the New York PR man who can’t quite foresee the difficulties he might experience trying to open a bar on a Caribbean beach is portrayed by Buffett himself. Most of the other roles are handled by members of Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band.
That band, twelve of the thirteen of which are still with Buffett these fifteen years later, serves as the pit orchestra here – but when was the last time you heard a steel drum in a Broadway orchestra pit? No, the sound of Don’t Stop the Carnival is distinctly Margaritaville. Take it for what it is, however, and it is infectiously ingratiating.
The melodies are just as simple as any of Buffett’s big hits. The song “Island Fever” sounds just like what you might hear walking past the open window of a margarita bar on any tourist-friendly tropical island, as does the percussion intro for such tracks as “It’s All About the Water” or “Time To Go Home.” Then there’s the calypso sing/talk “Kinja Rules” - "Kinja" being the nickname of the island Amerigo, a contraction and corruption of the historical name "King George The Third Island."
Buffett wrote the lyrics as well, and they have the slick felicity one expects even if they don’t seem to explore very deep emotions. His paean to Caribbean cuisine reads: “Calaloo. Strange Calaloo. Mysterious, curious roux. Try as you might to avoid the hoodoo, sooner or later we’re all in the stew.” He sings about his character’s former profession in the song “Public Relations” and resolves the problem of a corrupt government official cutting off his club’s water supply by popping some corks in “Champagne Si, Aqua No.”
The disc, issued in 1998, was something called an “Enhanced CD” which meant that it had bonus material in addition to the twenty song tracks. Today, those enhancements aren’t worth a lot as neither the “clickme” file nor the “home.stk” file can be played on modern machines. Their formats are no longer supported and the programs needed to read them aren’t loaded.
An eight minute video does play, however. By today’s standards it is a distinctly low definition video of Buffett singing a song that didn’t make it onto the disc. That song only runs 45 seconds, however, and has material that was used in another song that was included in the regular part of the CD
Add to this the fact that the disc is now hard to come by (a secondary seller offers it through Amazon for $40.80) and the result is that, unless you really want a physical disc, you would be wise to consider purchasing a download from iTunes. There you can purchase all twenty songs for $11.99.
Don’t Stop the Carnival
Studio Cast Album
Running time 65 minutes over 20 tracks
Margaritaville Records catalog 314-524 485-2
Don’t Stop the Carnival
April 10, 2013