Back to the Future

Original London Cast, 2022 (Masterworks Broadway) No stars; not recommended. These days, when you hear that a beloved movie is getting turned into a musical,  it sounds less like an announcement and more like a threat. Yes, movies have inspired great musicals in the past., but the modern trend of these “adaptations” leans toward slavishly faithful recreations of the cinematic source material, with a couple of by-the-numbers songs pinned on. Enter Back to the Future: The Musical, which takes reverence to a new level. The script is by Bob Gale, who co-wrote the original movie’s screenplay and has spent decades overseeing the franchise; and the score is by Glen Ballard and Alan Silvestri, the latter of whom composed the music for the original movie and its sequels. Based on the classic 1985 original starring Michael J. Fox, the story tells of a kid living in the 1980s who accidentally goes back in time and meets his parents when they were teenagers. The stage musical version that yielded this recording first opened in the West End, then transferred to Broadway. (No cast album of that production has yet been recorded or released.) It’s a very lazy adaptation: From the beginning of the “Overture,” in which not a single note of any of the new music written for the show is heard, you can tell what the creative team’s intentions were. Instead, you get the movie’s recognizable theme in a heavily flourished arrangement, which ends up sounding like the product of a computer program. Ethan Popp and Bryan Cook’s orchestrations sound better in the actual songs, which unfortunately range in quality from instantly forgettable (“Got No Future” and “Future Boy”) to instantly regrettable (“My Myopia” and “Teach Him a Lesson”). Most of the lyrics sound like they were done on a first pass, while many of the melodies are vaguely reminiscent of better tunes. When the writers aren’t going for the most basic concepts in their songs, they decide to adhere even more faithfully to the movie by incorporating the exact same ’50s pop hits in the final sequence (“Earth Angel” and “Johnny B. Goode”) before tacking on the movie’s Oscar-nominated “The Power of Love” at the end. The cast is made up of talented singers, with Olly Dobson and Roger Bart starring as the iconic duo of Marty McFly and Doc Brown, respectively, but they’re mostly tasked with having to shoot for the ceiling of their vocal registers in every song. And when they’re not navigating the vocal demands, they’re forced into a competition of who can provide the most uncanny impression of their film counterparts; Hugh Coles as George McFly easily wins with an eerie imitation of Crispin Glover. If Gale, Silvestri and Ballard had been willing to take any creative chances, or alternatively had stepped aside for a team of writers who would have done so, this show might have been surprisingly delightful and/or enjoyably campy. But as it stands, there’s nothing about Back to the Future: The Musical that makes any strong argument for its existence.  — Matt Koplik