Co-writer and co-producer Bob Gale talks about bringing iconic 1980s film BACK TO THE FUTURE to the big stage as a new musical
From DIE HARD and DIRTY DANCING to ET and FERRIS BULLER’S DAY OUT, the 1980s is full of iconic movies that defined an era, no more so than BACK TO THE FUTURE.
Released in 1985, BACK TO THE FUTURE tells the story of teenager Marty McFly who is accidentally transported back to 1955 in a time-travelling DeLorean invented by his friend Dr Emmett Brown. The film achieved huge success at the box office, taking over $360.6 million (£279 million) worldwide and marking the start of a successful franchise.
The man behind the hit film – together with co-writer and Director Robert Zemeckis – is Bob Gale. Gale conceived the idea whilst visiting his parents’ house in St. Louis, Missouri. Searching in the basement, Gale came across his father’s high school yearbook only to discover his Dad had been school president. Gale wondered whether he would have been friends with his father if they went to high school together, hitting on an idea for a film. When he returned to California, Gale discussed the idea with Zemeckis and the pair began working on a film script which was eventually picked up by Universal Pictures.
“I think that every child has a moment where they understand that their parents were once children” explains Bob Gale in an exclusive interview with Donna Kelly of Frankly My Dear UK.
“It’s a cosmic moment – it’s a total “Holly Sh*t” moment – and the movie captures that. When Marty sees his father in the café, there’s a shot where he just staring at his young father and audiences just love it. The first preview we ever had, the audience didn’t really know what the movie was about and when that moment happened, they just got it. That is why is everybody is fascinated by it, why it works, generation after generation, culture after culture.”
Over 30 years later, BACK TO THE FUTURE remains as popular as ever, the iconic story now being made into a new stage musical, opening at Manchester’s Opera House in February before heading to London’s West End. Much like the film, the musical has taken a long time to come to fruition from its initial talks back in the early 2000s.
“It was 2004 when Bob Zemeckis and I started talking about adapting BACK TO THE FUTURE as a musical” explains Gale.
“We started meeting different producers but it was frustrating because there were producers who just didn’t get it or we would get an attitude, particularly with the New York crowd, that we can’t do a musical because we’ve never done one before. Why can’t we do a musical? Everyone has to start somewhere. A few producers also wanted to bring in their own people to do it and that wasn’t what we wanted. From the start, we wanted to use Alan Silvestri, who composed the music for the movie, and Glen Ballard who Bob Zemeckis had worked with on POLAR EXPRESS. This was the team – Gale, Zemeckis, Silvestri and Ballard. Others wanted to rework the story so it was contemporary and I said you can’t do that. So it took a while. Then Glen ended up doing GHOST THE MUSICAL and he said to Bob and me, you guys need to me Colin Ingram, I think he really has the right attitude for this and we hit it off right away.”
Adapting BACK TO THE FUTURE into a musical might not initially seem like the obvious choice but in fact, music has always played a major part in the film. Alongside tracks from the original movie, such as THE POWER OF LOVE, BACK IN TIME, EARTH ANGEL and JOHNNY B. GOODE, additional songs have been developed by original composer Alan Silvestri and six-time Grammy award-winner Glen Ballard, to further develop the characters and their backstories.
“Doc Brown has a wonderful song in Act Two that tells us a whole lot about his past” explains Gale.
“It’s just one of those things where we didn’t have time, or a way, to do it in the movie. You have inferences to it in the movie when he says, “I finally invent something that works” – that tells us that he’s had a history of failure, but here we have a song that talks about that now too, so it is wonderful to be able to develop some of the things.”
Sub-character Goldie Wilson, the school janitor who runs for Major, also gets a larger part than in the movie, with Cedreric Neal, best known as being a semi-finalist on THE VOICE, getting his own musical number as Goldie, pushing the story along and further developing the character.
“Goldie is a really interesting example because when we made the movie, we had no idea that Goldie would turn out to be this really popular character” explains Gale.
“He’s only in the movie for a couple of minutes but we knew that if we came back, it would be great to bring Goldie back. In Act Two, we give him another bit and the audience are going to love that.”
Gale is keen to point out however that despite making a few changes to the story, BACK TO THE FUTURE THE MUSICAL will not spoil the fan experience, staying true to the original film.
“It’s one of the reasons it’s so important I stay involved” comments Gale.
“We want the fans to know that this production of BACK TO THE FUTURE THE MUSICAL is authorised and has the involvement of the original creators. We’re not going to ruin your childhood, we’re not going to screw it up and we’re not going to do things that don’t belong in BACK TO THE FUTURE. Yes, we’re changing some things because stage is a different medium to cinema but that’s because we don’t want to make it a slavish adaptation of the movie. If you just want to see the movie, there’s a really good movie called BACK TO THE FUTURE – you can see it anytime you want.”
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Donna is the Founder and Editor of Frankly, My Dear UK. By day, she works as a digital marketing specialist, by night she reviews film, theatre and music for a wide range of publications including WhatsonStage and The Reviews Hub. Loves Formula 1, prosecco and life.