Review: Back To The Future The Musical at London’s Adelphi Theatre

I’m a big believer that some things should work on the premise of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. So, when a cult-classic film such as Back To The Future gets translated into, not just a stage production, but a musical, it’s safe to say that I had my reservations to begin with. 

The original 1985 movie isn’t just a brilliant example of its era’s blockbuster filmmaking, but is a pop culture phenomenon, combining comical script writing with bonkers sci-fi fantasy that has stood the test of time, loved now – nearly 40 years after its release – by the children and grandchildren of those who grew up with the trilogy.

At London’s Adelphi Theatre, generations of fans flooded into folded seats of the Grade II listed building to discover whether or not this iconic franchise could be enhanced by an all-singing, all-dancing on-stage production. And that answer is yes.

Skateboards parked, Pepsi’s ordered and watches synchronised, the Adelphi is illuminated by 300 million LED pixels and 1.5km of pixel tape that stretch around the auditorium before a screen displays the time and date as though sitting inside the DeLorean. These cutting edge yet retro graphics blur the line between theatre and film, with Back To The Future: The Musical at times having you feel as though you’re inside the movie.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, Marty McFly finds himself transported back to 1955 in a time machine built by scientist Doc Brown. He accidentally changes the course of history, and so begins a race against time to fix the present, escape the past and send himself back to the future.

Back To The Future The Musical

For the most part, the musical does stay true to the original, retaining the film’s best lines like “Hey you, get your damn hands off her”, and “Where we’re going we don’t need roads”, however, there are some minor changes to the plot that don’t go unnoticed. The biggest being the reason behind why Doc’s life is endangered, which forces Marty to go back in time in the first place. In perhaps a sensible move, the musical ditches the Libyan terrorists for a much more palatable and family-friendly – but equally as Doc Brown – demise. The other sees Marty thrown into a wheelie bin by Biff’s henchmen, rather than into the boot of a car, providing the foundation for some original jokes in the script, others of which include 2020 references to kale and the eradication of disease.

Ben Joyce and Cory English have big shoes to fill as they play hapless 17-year-old Marty McFly and his eccentric friend Doc Emmett Brown, portrayed by Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in the movie franchise. Together, the duo have a great on-stage partnership which makes for an unlikely but lovable double act. Cory’s Doc may be perhaps even more kookie than the original Emmett Brown, bringing approximately 1.21 gigawatts of energy to his performance,  while Ben’s Marty mimics mannerisms and vocal inflections with convincing ease, while still injecting his own personality to the character, avoiding a slavish reincarnation of Fox.Their back and forth dialogue leads to laughter from the audience as they converse at 88mph, with some really tender moments warming the heart, too, such as when Marty hands Emmett the note about his future.

Back To The Future The Musical

Back To The Future marks a West End debut for Oliver Nicholas as Marty’s father, George, who also nails the delivery of the shy and nerdy schoolboy, mentored by Marty in a desperate bid for him to get his parents together. Their duet of Put Your Mind To It was fantastically choreographed with Oliver’s awkward, wooden moves slowly beginning to loosen up with help from slick and smooth ‘Calvin Klein’. 

Harry Jobson takes on the meat-hook-handed Biff, who gets the opportunity to show off his vocal ability and dance moves during Teach Him A Lesson, while Amber Davies soars as Lorraine Baines – Marty’s mum – with angelic vocals in the hilarious, almost slapstick scene of Pretty Baby.

Back To The Future the musical features music and lyrics by Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard.  There are no fewer than 26 musical numbers, including reprises, throughout the show, four of which are best-loved tracks The Power Of Love, Earth Angel, Back in Time, and of course, Johnny B. Goode.

Back To The Future The Musical

The bright, poppy soundtrack may not be the most memorable, but definitely has that fun, feel good factor you get from the likes of Grease, Footloose and Hairspray.

Despite being a musical, it’s not actually the thick and fast tracks that make this stage adaptation of Back To The Future the spectacle that it is – not those kinds of tracks, anyway.

The DeLorean really is the star of the show in this time-space continuum, supported by masterful special effects and dazzling illusions and projections throughout the production.

There are so many moments where, knowing which scene is about to arrive, you ask yourself or the person next to you “how are they going to recreate that on stage”. With considerable ingenuity, imagination and effects is how. Doc’s climb up the clock tower and attempt to reconnect the cables is wonderfully executed, generating the same edge-of-your-seat suspense you get from watching the movie. 

Back To The Future The Musical

The manoeuvring of the time machine was sure to be the biggest challenge, and much like when I went to see ABBA Voyage, you find yourself looking for the strings – but you won’t find them. The car glides so smoothly onto the stage, you’d think they’d smothered the breaks in butter. 

But, how would the DeLorean reach speeds of up to 88mph in a theatre with a capacity of 1,500 – my initial thought was “we don’t have enough road to get up to 88,” but of course, where this car is going… they don’t need roads. 

The DeLorean rockets down the track, revving and racing, utilising the whole stage to mimic varying camera angles before it connects with the bolt of lightning and vanishes, leaving a pyrotechnic trail in its wake. It’s nothing short of a theatrical masterpiece that is fully immersive and brings the story to life before your eyes. The pièce de résistance comes just before curtain close, pulling off a phenomenal illusion that will leave you with the same mind-boggling feeling as a Derren Brown performance.

Back To The Future The Musical

With only about 9,000 models produced in the early 80s, the stainless-steel DMC DeLorean had a short life on the American sports car market. With a few modifications, Doc Brown made it legendary, but the West End made it magical.

Back To The Future The Musical has enjoyed a residency at the Adelphi since August 2021, following a delay in its London transfer from its short-lived premiere at Manchester’s Opera House as a result of the pandemic. But Great Scott, is it worth the wait.

Tickets are available from £20 to see Back To The Future The Musical at the Adelphi Theatre here.

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