Back to the Future is my favourite film. As film and theatre at two of my big passions when it was announced last year there was going to be a Back to the Future musical adaptation with full involvement from Robert Zemeckis Bob Gale and Alan Silvestri I wanted to see what they could do with it but I always had the feeling in the build up to seeing the show so that it could very much go either way. It’s not a franchise that melds itself to this style of adaptation. I was excited to be given tickets to the first weekend matinee for Christmas and went along on February 22nd. Did they do a solid job with this new incarnation of one of my favourite franchises.
With some caveats I say yes. This is a very solid show and while I’m not quite as into it as some of the fan reaction I’ve seen on social media since the show premiered it has all the makings of a very big hit. What I admired most about the show was that well it still uses the dialogue and some of the score from the film as a backbone it’s massively committed to making sure most songs and lyrics are entirely original. The songs themselves are generally solid across the board especially the electrifying Doc Brown solo number 21st Century that opens the second act. It does recreate the Johnny B Goode sequence and then covers The Power of Love for the finale and Back In Time for the encore but it wouldn’t be Back to The Future without the use of these songs in some form.
With characters that iconic there was always going to be a level of impersonation in the central performances but pretty much the entire cast do a fantastic job within that context. That said the shows biggest selling point is definitely the incredibly impressive effects work (using a combination of rear screen projection, lighting effects, smoke machines and physical set design that brings the time travel sequences and the world of Hill Valley to life on stage The Back To The Future sequence itself is particularly impressive and the kind of thing that has to be seen to be believed.
That said for all the things the show has in its favour it has some weaknesses. It suffers (in a similar way to the stage version of The Lion King) from having to stretch out 116 minutes of plot to the standard 150 minutes with interval stage production structure. There are large sections of the first act where Doc Brown just disappears from the story. There have also been several small changes made to the story with the biggest being the removal of the Libyan terrorists entirely. I understand why the Zemeckis and Gale made this change as this plot point doesn’t fly in 2020 but the solution they came up with (which I will not spoil) is the most basic possible in order to fulfil the role in the plot that was previously occupied by the Libyan terrorists. These are only a few minor problems in what is otherwise a very solid adaptation that I think has the DNA to become a very big hit.
Overall, they have done a very solid job with Back To The Future: The Musical. It won’t be troubling my list of favourite shows but considering how badly this could have gone I think the cast and creatives deserve a big pat on the back for making something very worthy of the Back to The Future franchise. I think the show has a very long run in the West End ahead.