WHAT "Back to the Future: The Musical"
WHERE Winter Garden Theatre, 1634 Broadway, Manhattan
INFO $69-$349; 212-239-6200, telecharge.com
BOTTOM LINE The classic ‘80s movie teleports to Broadway, flux capacitor and all.
Quick, name your favorite line from “Back the Future,” the 1985 movie starring Michael J. Fox as an all-American teen and Christopher Lloyd as a madcap scientist. Maybe it’s the obvious one: “Are you telling me you built a time machine … out of a DeLorean?” Or maybe it’s this classic: “Why don’t you make like a tree and get out of here?” Or maybe it’s a throwaway from a minor character, such as: “He’s an idiot. Comes from upbringing.”
You'll hear them all — and more — in “Back to the Future: The Musical.” First staged in Manchester, England, in March 2020, then relaunched mid-pandemic on London’s West End, where it won the Olivier Award for best new musical, “Back to the Future” arrives on Broadway under director John Rando with songs by Alan Silvestri (who scored the film) and Glenn Ballard (Broadway’s “Jagged Little Pill”). Thanks to a lovingly faithful recreation of the four-wheeled time machine (complete with OUTATIME license plate) and some clever screen effects, this production brings a highly intricate movie to the stage without a hitch. What really makes it work, though, is the book by Bob Gale, whose original screenplay (written with director Robert Zemeckis) is as durable as that DeLorean.
For the few who don’t know the story: When young Marty McFly (Casey Likes) and inventor Doc Brown (Roger Bart) experiment with time travel, Marty accidentally zooms into 1955 and prevents his parents from meeting. Now, with his very existence in danger, he must persuade his father, the eternal punching bag George McFly (Hugh Coles), to kiss his mother, a surprisingly sexy Lorraine Baines (Liana Hunt), at their high school dance. Complicating matters are Lorraine’s creepy-funny crush on her own son — cue the lusty doo-wop number “Pretty Baby” — and school bully Biff Tannen (Nathaniel Hackmann), who hates all things McFly.
Given the movie’s indelible performances, the question for this cast becomes: To imitate, or reinvent? Bart, who played Doc in London and proves to be the star of this show, hits the sweet spot, channeling Lloyd’s gigawatt energy but adding his own touches of wry humor and even pathos (his song “For the Dreamers” is an unexpected high point). Coles, as the hapless George, bravely goes full-on Crispin Glover — the singularly strange actor who originated the role — and succeeds. As Marty, Likes has the biggest challenge: nailing Fox’s magical mix of sweet and cocky. He doesn’t fully manage it, but then again, who could?
“Back to the Future” omits a few iconic moments, notably the skateboard chase through town and the arrival of the Libyan terrorists. Still, it compensates with nifty staging and a couple of snazzy, Vegas-worthy set pieces that are too delightful to spoil here. After all, if you’re going to turn a favorite movie into a musical — to paraphrase one of Doc’s famous lines — why not do it with some style?