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‘Back To The Future: The Musical’ – Hugh Coles, Special Effects and an Electrifying Band

Back To The Future: The Musical. Photo by Sean Ebsworth Barnes.

Podcast Editor Matthew Seaman reviews “Back to the Future: The Musical”.

“Back To The Future: The Musical” opened this August at The Adelphi Theatre, situated just a stones-throw from our Strand campus. With the press night being cancelled due to Covid, I was lucky enough to see the show last week thanks to LW Theatres. With the same creative team as the Universal Pictures trilogy on board, this production promised to go down a storm (if you’ll pardon the pun). Original screenplay writer Bob Gale joins forces with original composer Alan Silvestri to create a filmic masterpiece… on stage. With the help of Glen Ballard, we get seventeen new musical theatre songs, all with an arrangement that nods towards Silvestri’s 1985 score.

Doc (Roger Bart) and Marty (Olly Dobson) Photo by Sean Ebsworth Barnes.

When you enter the theatre, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re at a “Back To The Future” fan convention. The box office and foyer are lined with references to the movie, even the merchandise stand is themed like the “Enchantment Under The Sea” dance, and fans aren’t shy from dressing up. The auditorium itself is striking, with the sound of cogs and electricity whirring around an already electric room. LED strips surround the stage, reaching across the ceiling, and as far as the dress circle. This neon interior is unlike anything I’ve seen in a theatre before.

When the fourteen-strong band begins to play the iconic overture, the audience is instantly enthralled. Their captivation is maintained until 10.15 p.m., when the musical ends. Some of the newly-written songs lack the “instant classic” quality that can be found in some shows, but the presence of “Johnny B. Goode,” “Earth Angel,” as well as Huey Lewis’ “The Power of Love” and “Back In Time” completely make up for it. You’re not there to see a new musical, you’re there to see a musical-theatre twist on an already established classic. Rest assured, many of the new songs are still brilliant, and upon a second viewing, I found them all growing on me massively. Ballard knows how to write a catchy hook, that’s for sure. It is strange to see Doc Brown (Roger Bart) singing and dancing, and there are moments I feel they threw in a verse just to ensure it remained a piece of musical theatre, rather than live cinema (especially when he swings from the clock tower), but it certainly suits wannabe rock-star Marty (Olly Dobson) to break into song.

The set and special effects are off the scale. It is worth the ticket cost alone. Of course you can’t really make a DeLorean travel at 88mph on stage, but through the use of projections, screens and lighting, you almost feel as if you are on a Universal Studios ride. The budget is clearly high, and the execution is stupendous. I won’t ruin the big moment, reminiscent of the stunts achieved in “Miss Saigon,” “Phantom of the Opera” and “Mary Poppins,” but trust me, your jaw will drop. Another particularly magnificent moment is during the school dance where George and Lorraine kiss, and the movie magic is replicated perfectly.

This review would be incomplete without mentioning the comic genius of Hugh Coles, who plays George McFly. Coles makes the role his own, creating some wonderfully timed vocal affectations, whilst maintaining the perfect homage to Crispin Glover’s original George. I can confidently say they found the only person who could have possibly originated this role on stage – you will not be disappointed. During moments of comedy, I am always one to sit back and quietly (internally) chuckle to myself, but Coles genuinely made me laugh out loud, which is something of a feat. Other notable mentions go to Mark Oxtoby as Mr. Strickland, the energetic and fantastic Roger Bart as Doc Brown, Cedric Neal as Mayor Goldie Wilson, and of course, Olly Dobson as Marty McFly. My only fear is that the cast has been meticulously chosen to be individuals who look uncannily like their on-screen predecessors. This ultimately makes me apprehensive about understudies or future replacements. We shall have to wait and see!

Photo by Sean Ebsworth Barnes.

The Adelphi has been home to some of my favourite shows in the past few years, from the fabulous, heart-filled “Kinky Boots” to Sara Bareilles’ ethereal “Waitress” (which is now on its UK tour). It is clearly a theatrical space that breeds success, and “Back To The Future” is absolutely no exception.

Tickets are available now, and you can find them here.

Podcast Editor and Culture Writer for Roar News.

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