Back to the Future: The Musical – Adelphi Theatre, London

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Book: Bob Gale

Music and Lyrics: Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard

Director: John Rando

Robert Zimeckis’ Back to the Future is regarded, quite rightly, as one of the greatest movies of the 1980s, if not all time. It is full of action, comedy and special effects, not to mention one of the most entertaining examinations of time travel’s grandfather paradox.

Choosing to create a stage musical out of a movie which relies on a souped-up Delorean speeding to 88 miles per hour is the kind of deliriously bonkers idea that could have sprung from the mind of Doc Brown (Roger Bart), the eccentric scientist who befriends teenager Marty McFly (Olly Dobson) in 1985 and, later, in 1955.

Like many of Doc Brown’s inventions, Back to the Future: the Musical should not work. And like his inventions, it doesn’t always. Act I’s first half, in which Marty’s 1980s home life is exposited along with details about the town of Hill Valley, is lumpen and uninspiring. The book by Bob Gale (who cowrote the original screenplay with Zimeckis) seems more focussed on reassuring those who are visiting the musical out of nostalgia for the film that, yes, they are on familiar territory.

That is reinforced by costume designs and character performances that stick rigidly to the original film. The only, glorious, exception is Bart’s Doc Brown, who takes eccentricity to whole other levels. While the character is familiar from the film, Bart expands the character’s wackiness to such an extent that the scenes without him in seem flat by comparison.

The songs, by Alan Silvestri (who composed the score for the film) and Glen Ballard are passable, but are overshadowed by the numbers known from the film itself – from Huey Lewis’s The Power of Love and Back in Time to Chuck Berry’s Jonny B Goode. Silvestri’s rearrangement of the film’s theme into It’s Only a Matter of Time is a pleasant surprise, though, especially when it is reprised in Act II as a duet between Marty in 1955 and his 1980s girlfriend Jennifer (an under-utilised Courtney-Mae Briggs).

While none of the new numbers are particularly memorable, they do fit with their characters’ respective eras – all numbers led by Dobson fit a 1980’s dad rock aesthetic, while songs originating from the characters he meets in the past have a very definite 1950s aesthetic.

Dobson himself is a great embodiment of the same boyish charm that Michael J Fox exhibited in the film. Besides his obvious rapport with Bart’s Doc Brown, he also develops the show’s best relationship, as Marty befriends his father George (Hugh Coles) in an attempt to get history back on track.

While Coles is mimicking the comic stylings exhibited by his character in the movie, the actor’s on-stage physicality is one of the highlights of this stage adaptation. In support, Cedric Neal lends his phenomenal vocal power to busboy Goldie Wilson, while Rosanna Hyland gamely throws herself into the role of Lorraine, Marty’s mother, who unwittingly comes on to her own son, risking the entire timeline.

But the real star – even beyond Bart’s hilarious Doc Brown – is the time-travelling DeLorean. The notion of a fast car is captured using a variety of fast-moving front and rear projections, giving a fun sense of dynamism. The car gets its true moment to shine right at the end with a flourish that owes more than a small debt to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

It is somewhat crazy to think that the gap between the release of Back to the Future and now is larger than the 30-year time jump that Marty makes. The film dove into 1950s nostalgia for its success; 1980s nostalgia is a clear driver here, too. And despite the lacklustre score, there is sufficient visual wizardry on display to generate that warm glow of recognition.

Your kids are gonna love it, as Marty McFly might say. But the big kids, even more so.

Booking to July 2022

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Fitfully flashy adaptation

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