Review: Back to the Future – the Musical @ Opera House, Manchester

Visually Back to the Future the Musical is spectacular. The show arrived in Manchester bringing the hit film onto the stage and into the 21st century.  

The visual effects really need to be admired in this performance. The mixture of video projections and staging techniques has brought theatre into the future.

Meanwhile, the design team — with illusions by Paul Kieve, known for his work in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — have smashed all expectations.

Projections are used to create a clever and new theatre experience which left audience members in awe. Colour and light creates speed for the DeLorean, whilst Roger Bart climbs up to the clock face, by only taking four steps.  This mix of theatre and film is unique and sets the adaptation on stage in a futuristic way. 

Opening with Marty McFly blowing up Doc Brown’s speaker, you’re immediately in the story. It follows the storyline from the first film, but with a mixture of 50s and 80s music and dance thrown in for good measure. 

Casting is spot-on. It’s almost as if they used the DeLorean to go back and bring the stars into the future. Marty McFly is perfectly portrayed by Olly Dobson, replicating Michael J. Fox’s iconic performance, both in dance and in style. But perhaps even better is Hugh Coles’ portrayal of George McFly as a teenager. His mannerisms make you believe you are watching Crispin Glover 35 years ago. 

The film is not forgotten in the music with The Power of Love, Back in Time, and Johnny B. Goode all included in the score. However, fresh songs, including the pre-interval track There’s Something About That Boy, really root the performance in the theatre. 

Despite the strong musical aspect, the dialogue and staging of the film is so closely followed that it can feel a little bloated. You would normally expect a slight adaptation to the story. But for Back to the Future, the show is the film, but with songs.

The music and lyrics, by Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard, feels like they were written for a film score. After the interval, Doc Brown sings about 2020 whilst riding a hoverboard, not a film hoverboard, but a 2013 self-balancing scooter-hoverboard. Another saw George McFly singing about his short-sightedness whilst he peers through Lorraine’s bedroom window. 

However some songs, including There’s Something About That Boy, Gotta Start Somewhere, and Put Your Mind To It add comedic nuance and really help the show feel at home in its new theatrical setting.  

These songs add depth to characters who, perhaps, feel a little lost in the film.  Put Your Mind To It is sung as Marty teaches his teenage dad how to be cool. This not only gives George McFly character, but creates a bond between father and son. 

The DeLorean, the clock tower, and the blazes of fire create an exciting, twisting set which will capture your imagination and leave you wondering – ‘but how did they do that?’  

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