Fans of the movie Back to the Future will not be disappointed with the musical adaptation. The show is a rollicking good time with a superb cast – especially Hugh Coles as the klutzy, milquetoast George McFly – and a fully operational DeLorean. It zips. It zooms. Yes, it even flies! Audience members not familiar with the film should still find the production entertaining, but at certain points during the show they might be scratching their heads wondering why everyone is hooting and hollering. My advice – go see the film beforehand.
The book of the musical, adapted by original screenwriters Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, follows the same storyline as the movie, with a few alterations that don’t really matter. For example, the Libyan terrorists are gone. George McFly’s encounter with an alien Marty has been exed and the skateboard chase with a fuming Biff trying to wrangle Marty is replaced with a frenetic romp through the halls of Hill Valley High School. There’s no manure this time. Just a bowl of spaghetti. In addition to the changes, the librettists have greatly expanded the character of Goldie Wilson, the malt shop worker who eventually becomes Mayor of Hill Valley. Portrayed by the actor, Jelani Remy, he now gets his own high-energy production number, “Gotta Start Somewhere.” Roger Bart, adding his own delectable spin to the role of Doc Brown, sings and dances with a couple of well-conceived production numbers, primarily the Act II opener, “21st Century.” [Note: This is the second “mad” scientist role for the veteran performer. He was the original Dr. Frankenstein in the Broadway and national tour of Young Frankenstein.]
Dance plays a central role in the show which, at first glance, seems surprising. You wouldn’t think the Back to the Future musical would have so many full-throttled dance numbers. As conceived by Choreographer Chris Bailey, they help enliven scenes and provide a bit of Broadway razzle dazzle.
Back to the plot – Teenager Marty McFly has a life he would rather forget. His family consists of a slacker brother and sister, a frumpy mother who likes to hit the bottle, and a spineless father bullied by his high school nemesis Biff. Marty’s only salvation is his beautiful, level-headed girlfriend Jennifer. Very quickly, Marty is summoned to meet his scientist friend, Doc Brown, to witness a DeLorean time machine he invented. Due to unforeseen circumstances, Marty takes the souped-up car back 30 years to 1955 in order to change time to save his dying friend, poisoned by the plutonium that powers the vehicle.
Complications, of course, arise. How does he convince a younger Doc Brown he is from the future? How can the two of them get Marty back to his own time? How can he fend off his teenage mother who has the hots for him instead of his future father, endangering his very existence? And how does he avoid his adversary, the dim-witted Biff?
Director John Rando smartly gives the audience what they want, with just a few changes and embellishments. As with the famous DeLorean, the musical is at a full-throttled pace. Speaking of the scene-stealing automobile, Mr. Rando has worked Broadway magic, along with Lighting Designer Tim Lutkin, Sound Designer Gareth Owen, Scenic Designer Tim Hatley and Illusion Designer Chris Fisher, to bring the car to life. When it revs up to the required 88 miles an hour you believe it is attaining that necessary speed. Near the end of the production it flies (couldn’t figure it out even from the center orchestra). The creative team also brilliantly melded their skills during the pivotal clock tower sequence. Bravo for their technical wizardry.
The score by noted film composer Alan Silvestri and producer/songwriter Glen Ballard is pedestrian at best. While satisfying within the context of the show, there is nothing memorable about the music and lyrics. Is this a detriment to the enjoyment of the show? No, but to have at least one catchy original number, besides the Huey Lewis and the News hit, “The Power of Love” and the Chuck Berry classic, “Johnny B. Goode,” would have made the musical even more captivating.
The cast is led by Casey Likes, who only made his Broadway debut in last year’s Almost Famous. In Back to the Future, he is an ideal Marty McFly, bringing his own spin to a role so entwined with Michael J. Fox. He infuses his character with just the right blend of bewilderment, enthusiasm, and gung ho spirit. Roger Bart makes an ideal Doc Brown, providing much of the humor in the show. He has the crazed, spirited zeal necessary for the character to come alive. As with Casey Likes, his interpretation of the role, made so memorable by Christopher Lloyd, is distinctly his own. Hugh Coles eerily recreates the role of George McFly. He brings a pathetic, yet endearing quality to the role. Nathaniel Hackman, a hulking presence, is an ideal Biff Tannen as he menaces the members of the McFly family. Jelani Remy provides a sparkling liveliness in the expanded role of Goldie Wilson. Liana Hunt is pleasing as the coy, but also self-assertive, Lorraine Baines, Marty’s younger, friskier mother.
Back to the Future, a comedic, exuberant gem, now on Broadway.