‘Back to the Future’ is an irresistible joyride

“Back to the Future: The Musical” is at Winter Garden Theater at 1634 Broadway.
“Back to the Future: The Musical” is at Winter Garden Theater at 1634 Broadway.
Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

As crowd-pleasing musicals go, “Back to the Future: The Musical” is near the top of the genre. The stage translation of the hit 1985 movie is big, bold, and packed with eye-popping stage wizardry. For spectacle alone, audiences are definitely getting their money’s worth.

The book by Bob Gale hews closely to his screenplay for the movie, allowing for a few updates, but it’s still the story of Marty McFly who is transported from 1985 to 1955. It’s a classic fish-out-of-water story as Marty tries to adjust to 1955, works with his friend and mad-scientist Doc Brown to get back to 1985 without disrupting the space-time continuum. Ultimately, before he can go home, Marty has to save his parents’ relationship—and by extension himself. After all, if they don’t kiss, there’s no wedding and no kids. 

Playing with the logic of time, physics and the effect of disrupting past events on the present has always been one of the most charming and comic elements of this story, and it still works. The whimsy is the point, and, really, why mess with a hit? For the musical, familiarity breeds fun. Part of that fun is wondering how a time-traveling DeLorean can be translated to the stage, and when it does, the result is jaw-dropping and joy inducing. Tim Hatley’s design that brings the world of the show to life is easily one of the stars of the show. 

Alan Silversrti and Glen Ballard’s score is enjoyable. Like many contemporary scores, the creators are not trying to write popular hits but serve the story. They have a strong sense of 1980s styles with some numbers, like the opening “It’s Only a Matter of Time,” that’s period pastiche—not an easy feat to accomplish. Similarly, “Gotta Start Somewhere,” sung by Goldie—a terrific Jelani Remy—is a classic “dream-big” number about a lowly soda-shop worker who might become mayor. There are also the numbers from the original movie score “Johnny B. Goode” and “The Power of Love.” Fans of the movie certainly wouldn’t want to miss those.

John Rando has directed with obvious affection for the movie and the characters. He has cleverly scaled up the performances so they resonate from the stage, rather than the more intimate, close-in shots of a movie. He’s given the entire piece an infectious exuberance that is irresistible.

Rando is happily abetted by a dynamic cast that seems to be having as much fun as the audience. Casey Likes, whose performance in last season’s “Almost Famous” was one of the best things about that show, emerges as a true Broadway star. He’s got a teen heartthrob presence, reminiscent of “Tiger Beat” magazine of the 1980s, a dynamic voice, and a sure grasp on the musical idioms of the period. Likes needs all that talent and charisma to be matched up with Roger Bart—one of Broadway’s powerhouse musical stars. As he always does, Bart as Doc Brown throws all caution to the winds and is hysterically over-the-top. Particularly in the last scene where he has to save the connection between the lighting rod on the top of the library and the cable that will send enough power to the DeLorean to get it back to 1985, his antic, physical comedy is perfect. He also has a heartfelt song “For the Dreamers,” making this a full and rich performance.

The rest of the company is very strong. In addition to the aforementioned Remy, Hugh Coles as George McFly, Mikeala Secada as Jennifer Parker, and Nathaniel Hackmann as Biff Tannen, are all stand-outs, putting their own stamps of style and humor on familiar characters.

The movie is now-considered a classic, and this production is an import from London where it won the Olivier Award for Best Musical. This latest telling of the story—ironic commentary, silly characters, illogical plotting that somehow makes sense in context—is nothing less than an exhilarating joy ride. Buckle up and enjoy it.

Back to the Future | Winter Garden Theater | 1634 Broadway | Tues, Thurs 7 p.m.; Weds 7:30 p.m.; Fri, Sat 8 p.m.; Weds, Sat 2 p.m.; Sun 3 p.m. | Tickets from $58 at Telecharge | 2 hours, 35 mins, 1 intermission