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Back to the Future: The Musical

  • Theater, Musicals
  • Winter Garden Theatre, Midtown West
  • Open run
Roger Bart and Casey Likes in Back to the Future: The Musical
Photograph: Courtesy Matthew Murphy and Evan ZimmermanBack to the Future: The Musical

Time Out says

The latest movie-to-musical adaptation spins out.

Broadway review by Adam Feldman 

Attending Back to the Future: The Musical is a bit like watching a car crash in slow motion, except for the part about not being able to look away. The star is a vehicle: a gull-winged silver DeLorean in whose image the Winter Garden Theatre has been tricked out with gleaming circuitry, and which—re-engineered into a time machine by the wild-haired inventor Doc Brown (Roger Bart)—transports 1980s teenager Marty McFly (Casey Likes) 30 years into the past, where he must help his father woo his mother. Audience members, meanwhile, may long for a device to jump them two hours and 40 minutes into the future.  

There have been solid Broadway musicals adapted from hit movies, but this heap seems to have been assembled out of parts from previous film-to-stage flops. Bart played a mad scientist in Young Frankenstein, and Likes was a music-loving teen in last season’s Almost Famous. Director John Rando tried ‘80s kitsch in The Wedding Singer; Glen Ballard, who co-wrote the score, also co-composed the ghastly Ghost. Like Pretty Woman and Bullets Over Broadway, the script is by the source’s original screenwriter, in this case Bob Gale. And as in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Bang, the main attraction is a flying car. 

Back to the Future: The Musical | Photograph: Courtesy Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

What no one has remembered to include is the engine, which may explain why the cast is pushing so hard. The ever-present underscoring—drawn from Silvestri’s music for the 1985 movie—is fine, but Back to the Future sputters to a halt whenever an actual song begins; the musical numbers are a series of missed opportunities to deepen characters or situations. (It’s no accident that the show ends with a run of pop tunes from the movie, including two by Huey Lewis and the News: Old News is better than any of the original songs.) As Marty’s disconcertingly horny mom, Liana Hunt sings beautifully and deserves better; Hugh Coles gives Marty’s milquetoast dad a distinctive physical vocabulary that is sometimes entertaining, though its freneticism could be scaled back by roughly 75%. Jelani Remy, as an ambitious janitor, cleans up in the show’s most effective group number. 

What makes Back to the Future so confusing, aside from the general ineptness, is how little it seems to understand its own relationship to the material it is trying to exploit. The show spends half of its time slavishly reproducing lines and details from Robert Zemeckis’s 1985 film—Likes has even been directed to imitate the catch in Michael J. Fox’s voice—and the other half treating its own story like piffle, with corny added jokes and broad metatheatrical references and gags; in a ludicrous outer-space number for Doc Brown that opens the second act, it abandons all trappings of sense altogether. A similar fate befalls too many shows that try to cash in on cinematic IP, and the Broadway musical, as an art form, can’t keep getting lost on these roads. If this is the future, please send it back. 

Back to the Future: The Future. Winter Garden Theatre (Broadway). Book by Bob Gale. Music and lyrics by Alan Silverstri and Glen Ballard.  Directed by John Rando. With Casey Likes, Roger Bart, Hugh Coles, Liana Hunt, Jelani Remy, Nathaniel Hackmann, Mikaela Secada. Running time: 2hr 40mins. One intermission.

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Back to the Future: The Musical | Photograph: Courtesy Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

Adam Feldman
Written by
Adam Feldman


Winter Garden Theatre
1634 Broadway
New York
Cross street:
between 50th and 51st Sts
Subway: C, E to 50th St; N, Q, R to 49th St; 1 to 50th St

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