Monday, 3 October 2022

REVIEW: Back to the Future at the Adelphi Theatre

We reviewed this wonderful musical version of the 1985 film Back to the Future in October 2021 after it finally opened following a long Covid delay when its premiere in Manchester was cut short in 2020 but a year on after a fairly extensive cast change it was definitely time to revisit the show. IMDB ranked the film as one of the top 50 movies of all time and its creators’ writers Bob Gale and Bob Zemeckis decided after the second sequel in 1990 that the story was told, and the Film Franchise was concluded. Its enduring popularity to new generations of fans is a testament to the quality of its writing and performances and therefore it was somewhat bold to tinker with that legacy by turning the original film into a stage musical. What’s more, to do it with the original creative team showed not just loving care to protect the memory but also a risk to damage it by getting it wrong in the transfer to stage. It may have been a long development path from the original idea in 2005 but Back to the Future – The Musical is now firmly established in the West End as a hit show.

I am delighted to report that the show, like the films, has matured with age and led by the irrepressible Roger Bart as Doc Brown is as good if not better than when it first opened. Burt who has been with the show since the start seems to relish every moment he is on stage and has learned how to milk the audiences’ reactions and delights in the ludicrous Busby Berkeley-style musical numbers that burst on stage for no logical reason except to simply entertain us. Some of it is bizarre like the opening to Act 2 with a fantasy sequence with the Doc belting out the song “21st Century” together with a dancing chorus of lab-coated assistants; it may not be the “Time Warp”, but it seems to pay tribute to other Musical films and stage shows as does “Future Boy”, with a chorus in top hats and tails. But as with so much of this show, it simply makes you smile with pleasure at the exuberant fun.

By the end of the two hour forty show we were celebrating the fact that the creators have pulled off a magic trick of honouring the original in style and content but giving it a fresh new life that matches the movie’s cult status. Indeed, the tongue-in-cheek comedy acknowledges the transition to stage, celebrates the iconic movie moments with neat twists and sets out to create a new cult stage musical to rival the longevity of the Rocky Horror Show. It won’t be long before audiences are shouting out the responses and lines and dressing up to be Marty or Doc Brown to watch!

The staging by Tim Hatley is wonderful with a revolve, automation, graphical effects and the magical DeLorean car brilliantly integrated to create iconic scenes such as Doc Brown’s garage laboratory, the tree outside Lorraine’s house, the Hill Valley High School Enchantment under the sea ball and of course the square outside the clock tower. Critical details like the picture of Marty’s family are cleverly projected to explain where we are on the space-time continuum. Of course, the star of the show is the DeLorean car (magnificently recreated by Twins FX, the world leaders in stage flying effects) which feels like it is travelling at 88 mph across the stage before finally taking off at the end of the first film to go back to the future with a stunning twist.

Alongside the magical Roger Bart as Doc Brown is Ben Joyce, fresh from playing Frankie Valli along the Strand in the Jersey Boys as Marty McFly. Their energetic performances acknowledge the original stars but add a delightful knowing charm to the stage. They have the same quirky chemistry between them, bouncing off each other and letting us know that this is a stage musical of a cult movie at every opportunity.

The music and lyrics by Alan Silvestri and Glan Ballard are not instantly hummable or memorable but will grow on us with repeated listening. “For the Dreamers” is the strongest new song, a Doc Brown ballad to the inventors who have gone before. The new songs are outshone by the classics from the Movie "Back in time”, “Earth Angel”, “The Power of Love” and “Johnny B Goode” in the climatic sequence around the High School Ball although it is rather too obvious that Marty is not playing the guitar!

The supporting cast is excellent, recreating the look of the original stars but also directed by John Rando to bring the comedy to the forestage. Oliver Nicholas making his stage debut as George McFly is gloriously over the top as he practices his challenge to Lorraine’s abuser, “Hey you get your hands off her”! Amber Davies (recently seen in 9 to 5 at the Savoy) pulls off the challenge of Lorraine as the 1985 motherly self and as the 1955 young girl well and we can feel her confusion as she lovingly seduces her own son! Jordan Benjamin has great fun in the elevated role of Goldie Wilson and the guitarist Marvin Berry adds a nice modern uplift to the show. Sophie Naglik is charming as Marty’s 1985 girlfriend Jennifer and Harry Jobson (another debutant) gets the unenviable role of recreating the bully Biff. Gary Trainor recreates the teacher, Strickland.

This is a show enjoyed equally on a second visit with so many little details to look out for like the Tardis spinning across the backcloth or references to the celebrated features of 1955 such as fossil fuel, cigarettes, asbestos, and spam (what a difference the passage of time makes!). The original creative team have pulled off a marvellous trick, honouring their great film franchise, but reinventing it as a stage show to delight 21st-century audiences. It is a perfect feelgood show for the post-pandemic time that puts a smile on your face and a spring in your step as you are thoroughly entertained by a fine cast and wonderful staging and are taken “back in time” and shown “the power of love”.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls, Row G | Price of Ticket: £60
Blog Design by pipdig