LONDON — During a recent performance of “Back to the Future: The Musical” at the Adelphi Theater here, audiences couldn’t stop cheering.
He praised a preshow announcement asking everyone to turn off their cellphones “since they weren’t invented in 1985,” the year the original film was released. When the show’s main character (played by Ollie Dobson) Marty McFly in an orange body warmer skated across the stage, he erupted with joy. And they cheered again when they started singing, to complete the 1980s, surrounded by break dancers and women in aerobics getups.
But the loudest applause came in about 20 minutes. After three loud bangs and a flash of light, a DeLorean car magically appeared in the middle of the stage, light bouncing off its steel bodywork and gull-wing doors.
The audience went crazy.
Bob Gale, who co-wrote the original film with Robert Zemeckis and wrote the music book, said in a telephone interview that he always knew the car would be crucial to the show’s success. “We knew that if we pulled it off, it would drive the audience crazy,” he said.
He said he had been working to make this happen for more than 15 years. In 2005, Gail recalled, Robert Zemeckis took his wife Leslie to see “The Producers” on Broadway—another musical adaptation of a cult film. As the couple left the theatre, she asked if she had ever considered doing the musical “Back to the Future”. Gail said that neither Gail nor Zemeckis had any professional theater experience, but decided to give it a shot — yet finding a producer who would take on the project on his own terms took the better part of a decade. took.
It didn’t take that long to fix the car, but Simon Marlowe, the show’s production manager, said it was still a year-long process. There were two challenges: getting the impression of speed and speed on the cramped stage of a theatre, and making sure every detail of the car on stage matched the DeLorean in the film. “The ‘Back to the Future’ fan base is huge, and they’re so pedantic,” Marlowe said.
Only 9,000 stainless-steel cars were manufactured at a factory in Northern Ireland before the company went bankrupt in 1982 (John Z. DeLorean, the company’s founder, was prosecuted, and acquitted, because of selling cocaine. Tried to finance his firm). So Marlow’s team approached Steven Vikenden, a “Back to the Future” superfan who lives in the seaside town of Deal, England. He has a viewable replica of the film’s DeLorean that regularly appears at fan shows.
The 49-year-old Vikenden said in a telephone interview that he had loved DeLorean since watching “Back to the Future” movies on video cassettes as a teenager. It was “very cool and futuristic,” he said. He said DeLoreans were owned by Deal, a local greengrocer and a dentist, in the 1980s. “As far as I was concerned, we had two time machines running around town,” he said.
When he was 21, Vikenden traveled to Universal Studios in Florida to see one of the film’s original cars, and eventually his wife bought him hers as a 40th birthday present.
Vikenden said he was surprised when the music’s producers got in touch. He put the car on a truck – because, under the terms of its “classic car” insurance, mileage is limited – and took it to London prop manufacturer Souvenir Scenic Studio, where “six or seven people” used 3-D. To capture its likeness, inside and out, the scanners and thousands of photos were taken, to be used as the basis for the version on stage. (She called him later to check some details like the original brand of the tire, he said.)
Once the model was built, the show’s team had to “pack it with engineering,” Marlowe said, including a device that allows it to rotate on its axis (so it looks like it’s a stunt turn). doing) and the pneumatic device that makes it tilt the wind (when it crashes into a farmer’s barn). Projections also help create the illusion of movement.
“We’re pushing technology to the limit,” Marlowe said. He said that about 20 people worked on developing the production car and related visual effects.
Although the DeLorean is one of the most memorable features of both the film and the musical, Gale said it was not part of the original concept. In the first script written in the 1980s, Marty McFly climbs into a fridge to travel through time; He swapped the fridge for a car when the film was in preproduction. In addition to its futuristic look, DeLorean was notorious at the time because of its creator’s cocaine trial, Gale said, so it seemed like an attention-grabbing option.
At the Adelphi Theatre, all the hard work on the car paid off. Ten audience members – many dressed as “Back to the Future” characters or wearing DeLorean T-shirts – said the car was a highlight. “I was in tears the first time I saw the DeLorean come out,” said 43-year-old Stephen Sloane. “It’s just the ‘wow’ factor,” he said.
Yet for the team’s attention to detail, 44-year-old Roy Swansborough said he noticed some differences between stage and movie cars. “The steering wheel is a little different,” he said. But his wife, Beverly, said he was splitting the hair. “If you don’t watch very carefully, you can go, ‘Oh, this is like watching a movie,'” she said.
The only moment in the show when the actors seemed to be DeLorean was right at the end. All the actors came on stage for a final song and dance number, and each player took their time to claim an ovation. But the car could not be found. Despite all the technical wizardry, the one thing he can’t do is bend.