I hadn’t originally planned on seeing Back to the Future the Musical. I felt lukewarm after watching the 1985 film and so logic would tell me that it would be best to avoid it. However, since this musical’s 2020 run in Manchester I’ve heard nothing but glowing word of mouth reviews and so temptation got the best of me and I didn’t stay away after all.
Now that I’ve seen it, I have mixed thoughts.
From what I remember of the film, the musical appears to be a very faithful adaptation of its source material. This isn’t a surprise considering that the film’s co-writers Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis were also involved with the creation of the stage show.
Marty McFly (Olly Dobson) is an ordinary 80s teen with dreams of being a rock musician. In a strange twist of events, Marty is hurled back to the 1950s in Doc Brown’s (performed by understudy Mark Oxtoby on the night I saw it) time-travelling car. Marty’s only hope of getting back to the 80s is by capturing enough energy from a lightning bolt with Doc Brown’s help to power the time-travelling car up again. In the meantime, Marty has accidentally captured the loving interest of his teenage mother Lorraine Baines (Emma Lloyd) and he has to act quickly to ensure that he directs his mother’s love away from him and towards his young anxiety-ridden father, George McFly (Hugh Coles).
There is much to praise about this production. The creative team has blasted forward the frontier of what I thought was possible with design in theatre and is unlike anything I’ve ever seen on a West End stage. The way in which it blends the set and video design elements together so seamlessly, it feels at times such as the car travelling scenes, like you’ve been plunged into a virtual reality video game. I couldn’t help but marvel at all the large and inventive set pieces that would glide in and out of the stage, demonstrating that no expense was spared with this one. The jaw-dropping finale is without a doubt the biggest thrill of the show and is worth the price of admission alone.
There are many big blockbuster musical numbers and fans of the film shouldn’t be disappointed to learn that they’ve kept in Marty’s infamous “Johnny B. Goode” guitar solo and that there’s a big finale number to Huey Lewis and the News’ “Power of Love”. Cedric Neal as Goldie Wilson, the cleaner with dreams of being a mayor, is brilliantly funny. But after seeing his range in the Soho’s production of the View From Upstairs a couple of years ago, he feels woefully underutilised in this role.
What’s held me back from raving about this one is ultimately the plot as I just couldn’t get on board with the comedy. Call me a bore, but I didn’t find it particularly funny to watch a mum flirting outrageously with her son. Hugh Coles displays great commitment to the physical comedy aspects of his role as a painfully shy nerd but I couldn’t find the humour in laughing at a character that’s so hopelessly wet. As Marty’s role as match-maker for his parents is quite central to the story, it meant that I struggled to enjoy the show as a whole. However considering Back to the Future was the highest-grossing film in the year that it was released, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that this musical has an audience who would disagree with me. I could see many of the film’s die-hard fans during a mid-week matinee performance and I was pleased to see that they lapped up the entire thing.
So if you enjoyed the film, I’d wholeheartedly recommend seeing this one to catch the leaders of design in musical theatre right now. Yes, it’s time for the chandelier in Phantom and the helicopter in Miss Saigon to move over. But if you weren’t blown away by the film, this one might not be for you.
Photo Credit: Sean Ebsworth Barnes
Back to the Future is running at the Adelphi Theatre.