A guide to Back to the Future – The Musical
It has become one of the hottest tickets in the West End, but what is Back to the Future – The Musical, and what is all the fuss about?
If you were a child of the 1980s then Back to the Future likely holds a special place in your heart. For the uninitiated, it’s a 1985 film directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Michael J. Fox as a teen who accidentally finds himself travelling back in time to 1955, where he meets his parents before they fall in love and ultimately risks wiping himself from existence.
Everything about the film is iconic, from the DeLorean time machine to Doc Brown’s hair. And then there’s the music… a barnstorming score by composer Alan Silvestri and a couple of really catchy songs by Huey Lewis and the News.
For some, discovering that Back to the Future was to be turned into a musical was… a surprise. It could never work, surely? How would they pull it off?
Firstly, the film is more musical than you might remember. Aside from Silvestri’s cracking original score and those Huey Lewis songs, Marty McFly is a guitarist (and lead singer of The Pinheads), then there’s ‘The Enchantment Under the Sea Dance’ where Marvin Berry and the Starlighters perform the likes of ‘Night Train’, ‘Earth Angel (Will You Be Mine)’ and ‘Johnny B. Goode’ (though with Marty, not Marvin).
A lot of that forms the heart of Back to the Future – The Musical, with Alan Silvestri returning with not only his great original themes (applied beautifully/thrillingly to dialogue scenes and set pieces) but also a clutch of new songs.
Silvestri worked with his regular songwriting partner Glen Ballard on the songs for the show. The pair have collaborated on a number of songs for movies, including the Oscar-nominated song ‘Believe’ from The Polar Express. Together they fashioned songs worthy of the West End and Broadway, cleverly utlilising part of Silvetstri’s main theme in ‘Only a Matter of Time’ and drawing on the styles of the ’80s (‘Wherever We’re Going’) and ’50s (‘Pretty Baby’, ‘Something About That Boy’) here and there.
The two songs written for the original film’s soundtrack by Huey Lewis (‘The Power of Love’ and ‘Back in Time’) also make an appearance – performed in the show by Marty’s band ‘The Pinheads’, while the school dance features both ‘Earth Angel’ and ‘Johnny B. Goode’ just as it did in the film.
Preview shows in Manchester were wildly popular and though the show’s West End debut was delayed by the pandemic, it eventually opened at the Adelphi Theatre at the end of 2021. Alan Silvestri has been involved every step of the way, overseeing its move to the West End, working with orchestrators/arrangers Ethan Popp, Bryan Crook and David Chase, plus musical director Jim Henson. And it has gone down well, with a win at this year’s Olivier Awards for ‘Best New Musical’.
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The team also came together with the London cast to record an album of the show, which was released on Sony Classical earlier this year. It’s the perfect keepsake of the show, featuring the memorable performances of Olly Dobson (as Marty) and the brilliant Roger Bart (as Doc Brown), plus members of The Outatime Orchestra under Jim Henson.
Fans continue to be dazzled by the show, the run of which has recently been extended until at least July 2023. It manages to successfully hit all the emotional, comedic and dramatic beats of the original film, adding a gloss of West End wonder and placing the audience right in the thick of the action. And Broadway audiences can go Back to the FutureCredit
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Michael is the Reviews Editor of BBC Music Magazine. He was previously a freelance film music journalist and spent 15 years at St George's Bristol. Michael specialises in film and television music and was the Editor of MusicfromtheMovies.com. He has written for the BBC Proms, BBC Concert Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, Hollywood in Vienna and Silva Screen Records.