BACK TO THE FUTURE: THE MUSICAL Marries The Heart Of The Film With The Spectacle Of Live Theatre

Image via Playbill

Broadway musicals based on blockbuster Hollywood films are all the rage. Love them or hate them, they appear here to stay. With the exorbitant costs involved in staging a Broadway production, producers need concepts with brand recognition. The idea is that if you loved the film, you’ll love the musical. There are currently seven musicals on Broadway adapted from films with another one in rehearsals to open in 2024.

However, not every film translates to the musical stage well. For every Lion King or Hairspray, there are many failures such as CarrieRocky the Musical or Big. They are not guaranteed money makers in any sense of the word, and some are less crowd pleasers than others.

On paper, Back to the Future seems like a film that could go either way. It has themes involving friendship, sticking up for yourself, and, per Huey Lewis and the News, The Power of Love–all good topics for a Broadway musical. However, it is a science-fiction film involving time travel which, while not special effects-laden, the effects in the film are pretty crucial to the story and would be pretty hard to replicate on stage. It would appear that one should think twice about adapting it to stage.

Image via backtothefuturemusical.com

Well, think twice they did because we got Back to the Future: The Musical, which opened on Broadway on August 3, 2023 after being in previews starting June 30th and following a run in London prior to that.

Before I go into the meat of my review, let me lay all my cards on the table. I should first admit that I am a major Back to the Future fan. It is definitely one of my favorite films, one that I own on just about every format a film can be owned on and yet still have to stop what I am doing whenever it is on TV to watch it again.

If you are afraid that this will be one of those musicals simply chops up the film’s script and puts ill-fitting songs in the spaces between that stick out like a sore thumb, let me ease your worries. The music is done by Alan Silvestri, the composer of the film’s score. The new songs meld in seamlessly with the narrative and Silvestri’s score from the film, and the lyrics by Glen Ballard, known mostly for co-writing and producing Alanis Morrisette’s breakthrough Jagged Little Pill album, capture the feelings of the characters brilliantly. Your mileage may vary, but a lot of the songs stuck with me after I left the theater. That’s the sign of a good musical for me.

Back to the Future the Musical
Image via backtothefuturemusical.com

There are a number of changes to the plot. Bob Gale, who co-wrote the film with Robert Zemeckis, wrote the book for the musical, so rest assured the changes came from the man who created the original. That doesn’t mean that all the changes are great. Most of the changes are due to the fact that somethings are not as easy to do on stage as they are on the screen. Usually, the changes involve removing a set piece or scene that would be just too much work to bring into the musical.

However, and this is my one big criticism of the musical, one of the changes turns one of the characters into a bloody moron. And, not to get too spoilery, it is the one character who should not be a bloody moron.

The acting ranges from good to fantastic, based solely on how much they imitate the original actors from a film. Hugh Coles, who is a carryover from the London cast, does a pretty spot-on impersonation of Crispin Glover as George McFly. However, the imitation caused me to miss a lot of the lyrics of his solo, “My Myopia.” Crispin Glover as George McFly is not the easiest singer to understand.

Casey Likes does much better. He gets the assignment. His acting captures the squeaky exasperation of Michael J. Fox. But when it is time to sing, the imitation ends and Likes sings in his voice in a clear and easy to understand manner. Considering that he is the lead, this is important and absolutely vital to the success of the musical. This apparently is only his second Broadway show (he was also in a musical based on a film last year–Almost Famous). But make note of his name. He is a star in the making.

Image via backtothefuturemusical.com

But who fare best are the ones who decide to capture the spirit of the original performance rather than just imitate it. Liana Hunt doesn’t exactly sound like Lea Thompson all that much but captures the awkward horniness of the character. She is aided by her showcase song being done in the style of a ’50 girl group. That was an awesome touch that helps set the mood.

It should come as no surprise that Roger Bart puts in the strongest performance. He is a Broadway veteran. And his voice for Doc Brown doesn’t ape the rasp of Christopher Lloyd but his performance matches all the humanity and pathos Lloyd put into the character. If this production gets any love from the Tony’s, Roger Bart will probably get the most of it. He’s fantastic.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Nathaniel Hackmann does an excellent job as Biff. He balances the menace and the idiocy of the character well.

Image via backtothefuturemusical.com

The effects are spectacular. Yes, you will need to suspend a whole lot of disbelief, but if you do, you’ll be saying ‘Wow” quite a bit. And a special note should be given to the choreography, which is energetic and entertaining.

This adds up for an enjoyable, if weirdly uneven musical. Act I is pleasant and enjoyable, but only that, perhaps because that is where most of the changes occur. However, Act II is amazing. That might be because that is where most of the emotional beats are located. You’ll cheer, you’ll laugh, and you’ll cry. And the finale is a floor-stomping crowd pleaser.  The second act is definitely the more powerful of the two, one that lifts the show from merely okay to something special.

Do I recommend the musical? Yes. If you have the $54 to $288 and are a fan of the film. I came away with a smile on my face. It might not be the most perfect adaptation of Back to the Future, but it is probably the best one we could possibly get. It is worth seeing if you have the ways and means to.

Image via backtothefuturemusical.com
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About Bill Gatevackes 2040 Articles
William is cursed with the shared love of comic books and of films. Luckily, this is a great time for him to be alive. His writing has been featured on Broken Frontier.com, PopMatters.com and in Comics Foundry magazine.
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