From Hill Valley to Broadway: Back to the Future’s Journey to Musical Theatre.
Back to the Future has zoomed back into our lives and onto the Broadway stage. The 1985 cult classic, which had us all pining for a DeLorean, is now wowing a whole new generation. Remember Marty McFly and Doc Brown? The daring time-traveling duo who introduced the space-time continuum, flux-capacitor, and a nifty pair of futuristic Nike Air Mag kicks into our lives? They’re back, and they’re treading the boards.
Park your hoverboards next to the Winter Garden Theatre and watch as Marty, navigates the rough seas of adolescence, the heartwarming chaos of family, and the nail-biting adventure of making sure the future stays exactly where it’s supposed to be.
Revisit Hill Valley, a familiar landscape filled with its quirky yet lovable locals, where adventures unfold against the relentless ticking of a cosmic clock. Return to the ambitious yet hilariously fantastical ideas of people from decades ago about what our today was supposed to be like. This performance extends beyond a simple nostalgic trip back to the golden age of the 80s. It’s an exhilarating voyage that once again resonates with both new audiences and those returning for another taste of this classic.
The Enduring Legacy of Back to the Future
Back to the Future became a cultural phenomenon that had its part in defining the 80s and 90s. Its unique blend of science fiction, comedy, and family drama struck a chord with audiences worldwide, making it one of the highest-grossing films of 1985. It spawned two successful sequels, cementing its status as a beloved trilogy.
Central to its long-lasting success is the character of Marty McFly. His quick wit, courage, and relatable teenage woes resonated with audiences then and are relatable now. He wasn’t just a time-traveling adventurer; he was every teenager navigating high school, family, and dreams of a better future. His journey through time, while dreamlike, was grounded in universal human experiences like love and friendship, making him a character viewers could root for.
And who could forget the eccentric Doc Brown? Great Scott! With his wild hair, kooky expressions, and passionate monologues about ‘jigowatts,’ Doc is one of cinema’s most iconic scientists. His genius was tempered by his endearing quirks and his genuine friendship with and mentorship over Marty. Their bond was the heart of the trilogy, making Back to the Future more than just a sci-fi adventure – it was a story about friendship and courage.
The Journey to the Stage: Challenges and Considerations
Bringing Back to the Future to the stage was a herculean task that required complex planning and brainstorming. The musical adaptation of the iconic film first began development in 2012; the initial staging involved dissecting the film, understanding its core themes, and brainstorming ways to translate its cinematic value to the stage.
The path to the stage wasn’t without its twists and turns. Initially, director Jamie Lloyd (Betrayal starring Tom Hiddleston – 2019, A Doll’s House starring Jessica Chastain) was attached to the project for its West End debut. However, after workshops in early 2014, Lloyd stepped down. This setback led to a delay in the production. During that time, other key members of the creative team, including scenic designer Soutra Gilmour (London’s St. James Theatre revival of Urinetown: The Musical), also departed. Despite these initial challenges, the production rallied, finding new creative leads who ultimately brought the vision of Back to the Future alive on the Broadway stage.
The musical maestros behind this nostalgic ride are none other than the dynamic duo Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard. Silvestri, the man behind the scores for films like Forrest Gump and The Avengers, and the original Back to the Future trilogy, paired with Ballard, the Grammy-winning rock star behind hits like Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror and Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill,formed a powerhouse creative team to tackle this project.
An entirely new score was developed for the Broadway production. This fresh set of songs not only amplified the narrative but also provided a new way for audiences to engage with the world of Back to the Future. Audiences will hear good-old hits like “Back in Time,” “Johnny B. Goode,” and “Earth Angel,” accompanied by a list of new songs detailing other parts of the story. For instance, Doc shares his vision of what the world of the future could be in the second act opener, “21st Century.”
The book is by Bob Gale, the original co-writer of the Back to the Future films, whose role is to ensure the musical stays true to the much-loved movie trilogy while giving it a fresh twist that makes it fit in perfectly on Broadway.
John Rando, the esteemed director that garnered a TonyⓇ Award for his outstanding direction of the acclaimed satirical Urinetown: The Musical (2002), directed the stage adaptation. His track record of unique creative vision and comedic timing made him well-suited to navigate this story’s transition from screen to stage.
The biggest challenge in bringing the show to stage was transforming a narrative that relies heavily on cinematic techniques and special effects into a stage production. Time travel, a pivotal element in the story, required innovative staging and design techniques to bring it to life.
One of the biggest triumphs of Back to the Future: The Musical is the iconic DeLorean‘s transition from screen onto stage. Its first appearance is a show-stopping moment, always met with enthusiastic applause as it roars to life amidst smoke and flashing lights. This isn’t just a prop but a character in its own right, filled with details and easter eggs that will delight fans of the original film. From the distinctive gull-wing doors to the intricate dashboard filled with retro-futuristic dials and switches, the stage DeLorean is a loving homage to the movie’s time-traveling machine, capturing the magic and excitement of the original and finally making it real for all the long-time fans.
Adapting Characters for the Stage
Casting the iconic duo of Marty McFly and Doc Brown for the stage was a crucial step in the adaptation process. The task was not just about finding actors who could replicate Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd’s performances but about finding performers who could bring their unique interpretations to the roles while maintaining the essence of the characters.
Roger Bart and Casey Likes were chosen to fill these shoes, playing Doc Brown and Marty McFly, respectively. Bart, a TonyⓇ Award-winning actor, embraced Doc’s eccentricities while highlighting his heart and earnestness. Likes, meanwhile, captured Marty’s charisma and youthful energy while showcasing the character’s growth throughout the story.
For Casey Likes, the pressure of living up to the fans’ and industry’s expectations initially felt overwhelming. He had already made a successful Broadway debut and the fear of disappointing in his second significant role was real. Embracing the responsibility, he spent considerable time preparing for the role. Likes recognized that playing a character with established expectations was familiar territory for an actor. Once he immersed himself in the role, it felt as natural as riding a bike.
For Bart, the task of portraying Doc Brown, a character originally brought to life by the incomparable Christopher Lloyd, was daunting. Acknowledging that Lloyd’s performance was a tough act to follow, Bart chose to see the opportunity as a surreal dream come true. With humility and dedication, both actors brought their unique interpretations to these beloved characters, ensuring Back to the Future: The Musical was a resounding success.
The Reception of Back to the Future on Broadway
The musical’s future looks bright. Its successful adaptation from screen to stage is yet another demonstration of the creativity and ingenuity of the theatre industry. Back to the Future: The Musical has been met with a warm reception by both critics and audiences. Critics have praised Casey Likes’s vocal performance, as well as the clever translation of cinematic elements to the stage. Audiences, meanwhile, have been captivated by the show’s energy, humor, and new music-lead dynamic, making it a must-see for both fans of the original film and newcomers to the story.