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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

REVIEW : Back to the Future – The Musical

Let’s just get this out of the way. Nobody likes reboots.

Nobody likes remakes, prequels or re-imaginings. Over the last decade we’ve seen films be pressed through the shiny Hollywood machine, only to tumble out the end capturing absolutely none of the original joy or spark of the source material.

Every few years a rumour emerges that someone is going to tread into that most holy of trilogies, Back to the Future. The original cast have signed on, walked away, the studio is going to remake it for modern audiences. Fans gather up pitchforks and storm the internet.

“LEAVE OUR CHILDHOOD ALONE!” they cry, ready to lay siege to the production and dump it’s remains in a truck load of manure.

However… if you’re going to remake a beloved classic, why not get the original creative team involved? Why not hold onto the original flavour? Why not make it a musical?


It’s February 20th 2020. I’m sat in the Manchester Opera House, and it’s raining outside. I know all of this because it’s projected onto a massive blue screen in front of me, ribbons of light dancing down through circuits into the stage. The house is packed to the rafters with fans, some dressed in full life preserver Marty costumes, a smattering of wild Doc Brown wigs bouncing around as we settle in. The show starts a little late due to the excitement and sheer size of the audience, but finally it’s time.

Marty himself welcomes us to the show, reminding us to turn off our phones as “Doc says they don’t exist in 1985.” The date begins to roll back, the years tumbling away as those familiar notes fill the stalls. Musical Director Jim Henson’s band effortlessly switching between the epic orchestration of the much loved BTTF themes to the guitar wailing songs of Chuck Berry and Huey Lewis, into the various tones of the originals songs created for the show – twenty of them in all!

The curtain lifts, and we’re instantly transported into Doc’s house. To say anymore would be to spoil the surprises here, but the visuals of this show are remarkable. To adapt a fast paced film onto stage cannot be without immense challenges, but the transitions are flawless. One moment we’re in Hill Valley High, the next in the smoke filled Twin Pines car park. So impressive are the scene changes that I often heard audiences gasp in shock at the magic that they had just seen.

The cast are remarkable. To step into the sneakers of Marty McFly is no small task, but Olly Dobson is an energetic bundle of joy to watch. For me, his stand out number is “Hello – Is Anybody Home”, a song filled with frustration that his father George is a spineless worm, a future that Marty can all too well see for himself but he also tears into the classics like “Johnny B. Goode” and “The Power of Love.”

Roger Bart jumps into Doc Brown’s boiler suit, and is nothing short of electric in the role. He brings enough of a tribute to the role we all love Christopher Lloyd in, but adds his own spices to make it something new. His first arrival in the DeLorean had the audience screaming and cheering in delight, steering into his first song – the energetic “It Works”, which had everyone laughing and bopping away in their seats. The second act opens with “21st Century”, a wonderfully choreographed scene involved the more realistic “hoverboards” that we ended up with in 2015. Both Dobson and Bart are an absolute delight to watch, clearly having the time of their lives up on that stage and the excitement they share is infectious.

Hugh Coles stunned with a pitch perfect George McFly, his very first line of the show receiving rapturous applause and the climactic scene in which he finally lays out Biff Tannen (a gleefully horrid Aidan Cutler) was anticipated with screams of “GO ON, GEORGE!” from several audience members. The whole cast deserves credit for taking these iconic roles, and making them their own. Rosanna Hyland is delightfully funny as the Marty obsessed Lorraine, Courtney-Mae Briggs shares one of the sweeter moments with Marty in “Wherever We’re Going”, Mark Oxtoby is the doppelganger of the original Strickland and Cedric Neal steals several scenes as (one-day-mayor) Goldie Wilson.

Finally, to another star of the show. The DeLorean. 

The sheer scale of how impressive it is cannot be described. From the first moment it swoops onstage, to the first 88mph moment, to the epic final scene which had me literally screaming with surprise – not a nut or bolt in that fine American steel disappoints. Again, to go into too much detail would be to spoiler the magic of the experience and should be seen for yourself.

For fans of the franchise, lovers of music theatre, people who want an eye opening spectacle – it’s all here for you. Do not miss this experience, as the canopy outside the theatre reads “THIS SHOW WILL CHANGE MUSICAL THEATRE HISTORY.”

Back to the Future : The Musical runs for twelve weeks at the Manchester Opera House with a move to London already rumoured.

You can get your tickets here, and I urge you to do so quickly. If you miss it, time travel hasn’t been invented yet so there’s no going back!

Jamie McKeller is a writer and director who lives behind a desk on the outskirts of York. He eats a lot of soup and drinks more coffee than medically advised. Having spent at least a decade directing theatrical stuff, he had a spark of an idea to attempt making a web series in early 2010. He didn’t have a clue how filmmaking worked. Fast-forward several years, and he’s obsessed. Editing, writing, filming and eating soup with wild abandon. But now he has a beard.

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