Of all the movies of the 1980s, none have stood the test of time — pun intended — more than “Back to the Future.” Robert Zemeckis' time-travel classic has been a favorite for nearly 40 years. But despite its legendary status, the series has been dormant since the end of the trilogy back in 1990.
However, while we are not getting a new movie anytime soon, the DeLorean has crashed its way onto the stage of the Winter Garden Theatre in “Back to the Future: The Musical.”
If you have seen the original, you know the story by now, but in case you missed it, Marty McFly is your radical skateboarding, rock ‘n’ roll teenager in 1985 Hill Valley. Marty is concerned, however, that the rest of his family are, in his opinion, losers, especially his father George, who still gets pushed around by his high school bully Biff. Well, things get more complicated when Marty’s scientist best friend Doc Brown unveils his latest invention — a time machine built out of a DeLorean.
I want to preface that the original “Back to the Future” is one of my all-time favorite films, but I am also very mixed on movies being adapted into musicals. Some have been terrific like “The Producers” and “Beetlejuice,” while others such as “Shrek” and “Mean Girls” are really not my thing. Thankfully, “Back to the Future” is one of the stronger adaptations I have seen.
Right out of the gate, the technical aspects of the musical are absolutely stellar. The musical utilizes a lot of projections, rotating sets, pyrotechnics and some incredibly creative theatrical trickery. Easily the most impressive element of the show was bringing the DeLorean to the stage. The first time it slid onto the stage left me speechless. It was a flawless execution, and I am still thinking about how it was accomplished. And the effects only ramp up in Act 2.
However, technical aspects can only get a show so far, but thankfully the cast and music are just as strong as the effects. Casey Likes made for an exceptional Marty McFly, making the part his own while also emulating Michael J. Fox’s cadences, and his performance is incredibly good. He is also an excellent singer, but that goes for the whole cast from top to bottom. Other standout cast members include Liana Hunt, who portrays Marty’s mother Loraine, Nathaniel Hackman as Biff and Joshua Kenneth Allen Johnson as Goldie Wilson.
Easily the biggest MVP of the entire show was British actor Hugh Coles as George McFly. There were truly times when I thought I was watching Crispin Glover on the stage. He matches the voice in an almost uncanny way, but the voice surprisingly transfers really well to the singing parts as well. “My Mytopia” was definitely my favorite number of the entire show.
Other standout numbers include Doc Brown’s introduction number “It Works,” Loraine’s “Pretty Baby,” and of course, the finale of “Power of Love” and “Back in Time.”
Despite “Back to the Future” being an enjoyable time, I would not say it is a flawless musical. One of the most distracting elements for me was Doc Brown. Unfortunately, Roger Bart was absent from the performance I saw, and his understudy, Blakely Slaybaugh, while incredibly talented, just did not work for me. His comedic timing was on point, and singing-wise he crushed it, but I thought he was just too young for the part, and his performance felt too derivative of Christopher Lloyd’s.
I also found a handful of songs to feel incredibly out of place from the rest of the show. The biggest victims of this problem include the Act 2 opener “21st Century,” and sadly, Biff's only number “Teach Him a Lesson” felt terribly mismatched alongside the rest of the soundtrack.
At the end of the day, “Back to the Future” is one of the most fun shows currently on Broadway. It has all the hallmarks of a proper adaptation, and I never found any of the changes made for the stage to be distracting in the slightest. The cast is so full of life, and I feel confident calling it now that Hugh Coles will get a Tony Award for his performance. The songs will linger in your ears long after the lights come up, but if you want a musical equivalent of a roller coaster ride, then I can’t recommend it enough.