Brand-loyal musicals in London

LONDON – There is a human story embedded in the shiny toy which is ‘Back to the Future: The Musical’, which opened Monday night at the Adelphi Theater here. But you’ve known pretty much from the start that an excited audience reserves their biggest roar of gratitude for a certain prop.

It would be the brilliant car so beloved from the 1985 hit film that it was the calling card for the West End film’s transcription by award-winning director John Rando. (A race in Manchester in March 2020 was cut short by the pandemic.)

And that’s what proves. Barely had the much-vaunted DeLorean made its way onto a Tim Hatley set – which itself looks like a gigantic LED-frame computer console – before the theater erupted into cheers that, in the past, so to speak, could have been reserved for the legends to organize it. Its gull-wing shaped doors are almost ready to take off, the vehicle later flies into the auditorium, somersaulting in the process. “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, eat your heart.

The result pays homage to a range of hard-working light, sound and video designers – not to mention Chris Fisher’s illusions – and is reminiscent of the 1980s mega-music era and its addiction to visual effects: The Falling Chandelier. in “The Phantom of the Opera” “and the whirling helicopter in” Miss Saigon “, to name just two examples.

And the actors? The opening performance of ‘Back to the Future’, in this case, underwent a last minute cast replacement when its (super) co-star, Roger Bart, was sidelined that day. by a positive diagnosis of Covid-19. The role of the wild-haired Doc Brown – immortalized by Christopher Lloyd on screen – has been temporarily given to Bart’s stunt double, Mark Oxtoby. I saw Bart’s joyful performance, maniacal and touching in an unexpected way, during the final preview.

Still, can you imagine the chaos that could ensue if the show’s mechanized abilities go out of business? It would undermine a stage business that, like so many films turned into musicals, exists primarily to honor the brand. As with “Frozen,” the Disney extravagance that opened up to a newly-animated West End just five days earlier, the creators must give obsessives a reasonable facsimile of the film while trying to find something out of it. only worthy of what, after all, is a franchise. (Both musicals are heavy on the merchandise.)

The need to think outside the box explains the 16 new songs from Grammy winners Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard that currently overload a known on-screen story in musical terms for Huey Lewis and the News rocking “The Power of Love”. This always welcome wake-up call comes just in time to fuel a cheerful finale.

The new songs, on the other hand, are largely filler-like, though Bart lands the plaintive “For the Dreamers” and Olly Dobson brings boundless energy and a loud voice to budding rocker Marty McFly – the traveling teenager in the time played in the film by Michael J. Fox. “Something About That Boy” has a catchy pace appropriate to the era of “Grease” to which the material pays homage, and several numbers refer to time in particular, as befits a sci-fi tale in which skateboarding -happy Marty is forced to fix nothing less than the space-time continuum.

And yet it’s the DeLorean again that kicks off a two-page program explaining vehicular specifics such as temporal field stabilizers, a tachyon pulse generator and, more importantly, a flux capacitor. This latter element receives a drive as a motor – you’ll forgive that word choice – that drives the plot when an anxious Marty returns in 1955 with the aim of reuniting his parents to ensure that his own existence is not erased. .

Because 1985 is already a long way off, the book by Bob Gale (co-author of the film with Robert Zemeckis) wisely dumped the Libyan terrorists who appear in the film. Instead, we get a rather desperate-looking reference to the current appetite for kale, and an ironic allusion to 2020 as a time without war, crime, or disease.

I had not recalled the degree of Oedipal depth of a story that finds Marty resisting the advances of his own mother, Lorraine (a clear-spoken Rosanna Hyland), in order to bring him under the romantic grip of the 1950s. geek George (one appealing to Hugh Coles). This slow-flowering charmer, given in song with rhymes “myopia” and “utopia”, is the one who belongs to the arms of Lorraine, not her own son.

A bromance develops along the way between Marty and Doc, a sort of mentor who in this iteration breaks the Fourth Wall more than once to express dismay at finding himself surrounded by the giant-leaped choir line of the choreographer Chris Bailey. The surprise, in context, is understandable. After all, it can’t be easy to fit the dancing into a scenario where the car gets all the best moves.

“Frozen” itself causes gasps as the expansive stage at the Theater Royal Drury Lane indulges in a scintillating icy landscape against which the magically endowed Elsa can sing “Let It Go” – the 2013 film’s Oscar-winning ballad of power. animation that immerses the public in the intermission on the spot. But despite all the transformations that Christopher Oram’s set has made, the focus remains firmly on the characters, most notably Elsa (Samantha Barks) and her relatively wacky younger sister Anna, whose bumpy dynamism is supposed to seem endearing but, I J scared, left me cold on screen and again on stage. (A perky Stephanie McKeon, it must be said, provides what the play demands.)

It’s Barks’ superbly performed Elsa who benefits the most from this reexamination of a show that was the first Broadway title forced by the pandemic to stop it. After having had time to review the material, director Michael Grandage and his crew reinforced the tense emotional state of a Snow Queen at odds with her own powers and gave the siblings a duet, “I Can’t not lose yourself, ”which places this show on a continuum defined by“ Wicked ”and centered around literal or figurative brotherhood.

The plot is still peculiar: Anna and Elsa’s parents die at sea, a loss that hardly seems to register, and many changes in behavior seem decidedly arbitrary. Oh, and how else to explain this first act, “Hygge,” involving the half-dressed exiting sauna ensemble, beyond giving choreographer Rob Ashford something to do?

A definite bonus to the London production is the approximately £ 60million restoration of the theater itself, which now looks lush enough that I, for one, would be careful before inviting thousands of people to through such elegantly appointed portals. “Frozen” is sure to attract countless families along its route. Let’s just hope these hungry and thirsty customers treat their lovely new surroundings with respect.

Back to the future: the musical. Directed by John Rando. Adelphi Theater.

Frozen. Directed by Michael Grandage. Theater Royal Drury Lane.

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