Kobi Kassal August 3, 2023 10:00 PM
Film-to-stage adaptations on Broadway nowadays are about as common as something can be, heck we had the latest one announced just a few hours ago. But walking into The Winter Garden Theatre, there’s a slightly different feel in the air. That’s because Back To The Future The Musical is a slightly different musical. When you are working with some of cinema’s most iconic IP and bringing it to the stage, the pressure is certainly on. I am here to report not only do they succed with that monumental task, but Back To The Future The Musical just might be one of the most exciting feats of theatricality I have ever seen on stage. Ever.
The nostalgia of the original trilogy is kept supremely intact when you have Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis at the helm. Gale’s book pretty much stays in line with the first film where we meet rock n’ roll loving teen Marty McFly (Casey Likes) in 1985 just trying to survive high school. When he accidentally gets sent 30 years into the past in a time-traveling DeLorean by Doc Brown (Roger Bart), he must race against time to make it back home safe.
Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard’s score ranges from 80s pop to 50s doo-wop with everything in between. The themes you love from the film are there, and the new additions make for a peppy Broadway score that is sure to be stuck in the heads of theatre kids around the world once they hear it.
Where the musical finds its groove is in director John Rando’s casting. A beloved franchise has iconic characters and Likes and Bart are up for the task. Bart returns to the role after originating Christopher Lloyd’s beloved film doctor over in its London premiere. There’s no other way to say it but Bart is the Doc. His comedic fervor drips off his white radiation suit and the audience laps it right up. Likes adorably charms as our teen hero Marty who has Michael J Fox’s embodiment down pat. After headlining last season’s Almost Famous, Likes has now firmly cemented himself as one of Broadway’s latest leading stars.
Hugh Coles makes a brilliant New York debut as George McFly and Liana Hunt is lovely as Marty’s mom/love interest Lorraine. Anytime Jelani Remy steps on stage you know the audience in good hands, and that is absolutely true with a showstopping Act I rendition of “Gotta Start Somewhere” that certainly brings the fun. All of the favorites from the movie are there from Principal Strickland to Biff so fans need not worry. It’s the role of Jennifer that has always puzzled me since I first caught the production in the UK. Mikaela Secada is lovely as Marty’s girlfriend, but I wish more development had gone into her role, but hey, at two hours and fourty minutes, there’s only so much one can do.
When crafting Back To The Future The Musical, if there is one thing you have to get right, it’s time travel. When you take Tim Hatley’s scenic design, and mix it with Finn Ross’ video projection work and Tim Lutkin’s lighting, there’s no easier way to say it than it creates theatrical magic. Some of the most stunning visual sequences I have ever witnessed are happening eight times a week at the Winter Garden, and it is one of those: you-just-have-to-experience-it-moments. Chris Fisher, who has done incredible illusions work for Harry Potter & The Cursed Child, has taken rull reigns and makes truly gasp-worthy moments with a certain flying DeLorean that makes a falling chandelier or a soaring green witch look like child’s play.
Oftentimes when we get mega-musical adaptations here on Broadway, we shun them out the door and liken them to cheap theme park entertainment. It makes one wonder, why? A multi-million dollar production that packs houses and entertains audiences of all ages are what we should be welcoming right now. No one is claiming we are looking for the next Pulitzer Prize Award-winning work with every new show. Fun Home this is certainly not, but to see the thunderous cheers and screams of fans pouring out after the curtain call, who are we to say this doesn’t belong.
Does Back To The Future need to be a musical? Of course not. But it makes for one helluva good night on Broadway. Diehard fans will love it, and new fans will be born — my plus one for the evening had never seen any of the films but is planning her watch party soon. Head to the Winter Garden and buckle in cause this musical will catapult you right to 88mph, and that’s a great place to be.