Synchronise your watches folks, because you are about to head back in time at a speedy 88mph with Marty McFly and that famous DeLorean. Exploding onto the stage, London’s Adelphi Theatre’s most recent production is a musical adaptation of Robert Zemeckis’s hit 1985 time-travel movie, ‘Back to the Future: The Musical’.
If you are going to open a new West End musical based on a cult 80’s movie classic, then you need to do it with some style, and that’s exactly what ‘Back to the Future: The Musical’ has achieved without compromising at all the legacy of the movies. With music and lyrics by Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard and a book by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, adapted from their screenplay of the 1985 film, this is a high-tech, multidimensional, magically cinematic production, that quite simply defies what you thought was ever going to be possible within the confines of London theatre.
Just in case you have never seen the movie, here is a quick overview: the main character, Marty McFly (Olly Dobson) is accidentally transported back to 1955 by his crazy-scientist friend Doc Brown (Roger Bart), in a plutonium-fuelled supped up DeLorean. Back in time, Marty prevents his mum Lorraine (Rosanna Hyland) and loser dad George (Hugh Coles) from meeting, inadvertently altering the time-space continuum and accidentally risking entirely erasing his future self. Marty tracks down the 1955 version of Doc, and they attempt to retro-fix history, find enough power to re-energise the DeLorean and get Marty back to the future where he belongs…!
So first, let’s address the small elephant in the room before moving on to what makes this new production epically brilliant. Ballard’s songs and book are weak and a little underwhelming. Everything was of course performed with passion, by a relatively inexperienced and naive cast, but most numbers were generally forgettable, with generic lyrics that didn’t seem to serve any purpose to the overall production value. It is unusual for a musical to have songs that seem to just exist only to segue into the next dialogue or action scene and not the other way round, but that seemed to be the case for the list of 26 songs, including some well-known movie numbers such as “The Power of Love”.
There are a few quirky exceptions of course, Doc’s ‘Put Your Mind To It’ number envisaging a 21st century free of “war, crime and disease” was exciting, and “Something About That Boy” was very cute, but had it not been for the phenomenal musical genius of Silvestri’s musical score propping everything up, you would be forgiven for wondering why the producers didn’t just run with ‘Back to the Future: The Play’.
That said, the songs are not the star of this production, and therefore they do not in any way detract from the overall “WOW factor”, and certainty that this is sure to be a phenomenally successful West End run. Without doubt, this new production is a celebration of the immense talent that usually sit behind the scenes, or as a support to the main event: Design, Lighting, Production, Sound and Stage Management. Finally, a production that shows the world what these talented individuals can achieve!!
‘Back to the Future: The Musical’ is directed by John Rando and designed by Tim Hatley, with lighting design by Tim Lutkin, lighting consultation by Hugh Vanstone, video design by Finn Ross, sound design by Gareth Owen, illusion design by Chris Fisher, and production management by Simon Marlow. It must be said for all other productions out there, past, present, and future… This is the dream team! They have truly blasted what could easily have been another movie-to-musical misfire, into a phenomenal live theatre experience.
The team have truly pulled magic out of the bag, and used every single skill they had, to create a movie/theatre cross-over that quite literally makes the jaw drop. From lighting effects that extend way out beyond the stage into the auditorium and audience, to pyrotechnics, graphic video projections and to the use of screens to create depth and alter perceptions, everything has been meticulously crafted to ensure a cinematic, sensory overload and illusion of flight, travel, and speed. It is not often that an audience leaves the theatre feeling like they have “been in a movie”, but on this occasion the team truly triumphs.
‘Back to the Future: The Musical’ is a spectacle in every sense of the word, and John Rando has really excelled in creating a visually thrilling production that builds not only on the original movie, but also references several other historical styles and genres through comedy, movement and styling from swing-style dance routines, follies-inspired chorus numbers, to futuristic sci-fi action.
In terms of performers, the cast is strong and well rounded, with some clear stand-out talent. Bart delivers us an eccentric, energetic and wild-eyed Doc Brown that is an easy match to the movie’s original character played by Christopher Lloyd. He is a natural comedian, and you can tell that he slips in some unique comedy and ad-libs throughout every performance. A true delight to watch. Coles is hilarious as the bendy and awkward George McFly, and his on-stage partner Hyland, as Lorraine McFly carries herself and her songs with strength and a charismatic stage presence. Dobson gave a good performance as the young Marty McFly and was supported by large cast of keen, fresh-faced, and high-spirited performers (some straight out of drama school).
Of course, the biggest star of the production is the time-travelling DeLorean car itself, and the pure genius that sits behind its design. Without revealing any spoilers, the final scene is an example of clear engineering mastery and one that is sure to spread around the theatrical community at speed, so go ahead and book your tickets now for what is sure to be hottest ticket in town! An absolute must-see, a truly magnificent production!
‘Back to the Future: The Musical’ has extended its West End run and is now booking through to July 2022. Tickets are available from www.backtothefuturemusical.com
Reviewer: Alan Stuart Malin
Reviewed: 27th September 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★