a man holding a guitar next to a woman
DJ Mills and Luana Peixoto rehearse a number from ‘Jimmy Buffett's Escape to Margaritaville.’ CONTRIBUTED

The highly anticipated new musical, “Jimmy Buffett’s Escape to Margaritaville,” may not open until the middle of April, but fans of the Key Players need not wait that long to soak up a sneak peak of the show. 

On Friday, March 29, the theatrical troupe will hold a fundraiser for their nonprofit organization and its latest production at the Village Square in Islamorada.

“We’re going to have a cash bar and some silent auction items, the cast is going to be here performing a selection of songs from the show to give a little preview, and we’ll have our tickets on sale also,” said show director Brock Mills.

When not acting or directing shows for the Key Players, Mills works as the merchandising manager at Miss Monroe Boutique, located in the Village Square at MM 82. Recently his employer, boutique owner Liz Huddleston, a fan of the arts and a community theater supporter, offered to sponsor a fundraiser for the Key Players and its production of “Escape to Margaritaville.”

“I said, ‘Look, Jimmy Buffett is wildly popular and people are going to want to be involved in bringing this production here,’” recalled Huddleston of her recent conversation with Mills.

“I think if we do a fun fundraising party that’s 5 o’clock somewhere, I guarantee you people will love to come and spend money and support the show.”

And with that, the first Key Players fundraiser of its kind was born.

Jonelle Kop, the Key Players executive producer, says the nonprofit is always looking for ways to raise money, whether through grants or sponsorships, in order to keep ticket prices as low as possible.

“We want people to come and see the show and we can’t do that if we raise our prices so much that people can’t afford it,” Kop said. “We recognize that people are struggling, especially our locals.”

A lot of time, sweat and money go into putting on a theater production. Many times, box office sales alone do not cover the expenses.

“We have to pay for the rights to the show, we have to pay for the music, we have to pay for the scripts, and the scores, and we have to pay for the forum. We have to pay for sets, we have to pay for storage and all of the regular overhead that we have,” said Kop.

The cast for “Escape to Margaritaville” is 15 members strong, made up of Key Players veterans and some amateur actors who have never taken to the stage before, like Key Largo resident and retired elevator technician, 70-year-old John Pettit. 

Pettit’s daughter read about the upcoming show and encouraged her dad to audition. 

“Here’s a part that’s perfect for you: they need an old guy that is losing his vision and hearing and won’t admit it, that’s you, always taking notes, that’s you, always wearing a T-shirt and flip flops and shorts, that’s you. You don’t have to do nothing, just show up,” recalled Pettit of the conversation with his daughter.

Besides acting in the show, Pettit has also been working diligently on sets, even building a huge 4-foot-wide cheeseburger in paradise made out of old tires. He would be lying if he said he wasn’t a little jittery about opening night.

“I know I will be as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs,” said Pettit with a laugh.

Huddleston believes community theater has a way of uniting and finding common ground for people who otherwise may never connect.

“It’s very multi-generational; it gets the different age groups together doing something. There’s not many things that do that, that will bring teenagers and 70-year-olds together to work on the same thing,” Huddleston  said.

The fundraiser and upcoming show come as the Key Players mourn one of their cherished longtime members. Brad Shank was considered the go-to guy, involved with the nonprofit for as long as most can remember. He acted, directed, produced, built sets – you name it, he was there for the Key Players. Shank recently passed away after a yearlong illness.

“He must have done 30 or 40 productions over the years. It was a real fun time for him,” recalled his lifelong partner Susan Bazin.

“We are going to miss him very, very, very, very much,” Kop said.

For this upcoming fundraiser, Bazin is pledging $100 to the Key Players in Shank’s memory, and she hopes others donate as well so the bright lights of this community theater never dim.

The fundraiser takes place Friday, March 29 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Village Square, located at 81868 Overseas Highway. There will be a cash bar – serving margaritas, of course – a silent auction and live performances by the cast.

The musical opens April 18 at the Murray Nelson Government & Cultural Center and there will be seven performances.

For more information on tickets or to make a donation to the Key Players, visit

Kellie Butler Farrell
Kellie Butler Farrell is a journalist who calls Islamorada home. Kellie spent two decades in television news and also taught journalism at Barry University in Miami and Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, UAE. She loves being outside, whether spending time on the water or zipping down the Old Highway on her electric bike, Kellie is always soaking up the island lifestyle. Kellie and her husband own an electric bike rental company, Keys Ebikes.