Interview with Back to the Future’s Bob Gale

Posted on 23 October 2020

What better time to escape to the future? Set your time circuits for May 2021 and head to London’s Adelphi Theatre for a time-travelling adventure that’s going to be HEAVY! We’ve been celebrating all things Back to the Future this week following BTTF Day and that includes exclusive access to tickets from £19.55 and £19.85. Back to the Future The Musical tickets are on sale now, so make like a tree and book yours yesterday!

Whilst we’ve been partying like its 1985, with new BTTF Musical single ‘Back In Time’ on blast, we also had the incredible opportunity to talk to Back to the Future co-writer Bob Gale. Bob not only wrote the epic films we all love but the book for the musical! Read below to see all he had to say about Back to the Future the Musical coming to the West End!

Q&A with Bob Gale

1. You co-wrote one of the biggest trilogies of all time and now you’ve brought it to the stage. What have you made of the response from Back to the Future fans?

Bob Gale: The response from our fans has been incredible.  One of my favourites: in Manchester, a man came up to me and admitted that when he first heard we were turning his favourite movie into a theatrical musical, he was so horrified that he posted on social media that this was one of the stupidest ideas he'd ever heard because he saw no way it could be translated into a stage musical with any integrity.  He told me he couldn't be happier to have been so wrong, he was euphoric in his reaction and said he was now going to proselytize for it.

2. Back to the Future is an epic, time-travelling adventure! What challenges did you find when adapting it for the stage?

B: From the beginning, we did not want this to be a slavish translation of the movie. After all, if you just want to see the movie, you can watch the movie. So, the challenge was always, how do we use the tools of musical theatre in the best possible way? How do we make this feel like it belongs on stage but preserve the essence of BTTF? It was important to come up with solid alternatives to things that could not practically be done on stage, like the skateboard chase or the terrorist car chase, while maintaining the drama.  We eliminated Doc Brown's dog because we didn't want to put someone in a dog costume and trying to work with a real dog every night would have been unpredictable. Then there were iconic scenes that we knew we had to do, like having the DeLorean travel 88 miles per hour and the clock tower scene with the lightning, and that's where we had to focus a lot of creative energy.  Thanks to the vision and ingenuity of our Design team, Special Effects Crew and Video Crew, those elements really shine, and the audience goes wild when they experience these illusions. We also got a chance to look at the 80s as history, so we found new elements for humour and social comment.

3. The movie included various hit songs which are included in the musical adaptation; but what do you think of the new musical numbers?

B: I love the new songs, they're wonderful! Songwriters Glen Ballard and Alan Silvestri worked very closely with Bob Zemeckis and me even before producer Colin Ingram and director John Rando came on board. So, this was a true collaboration from the very beginning, with all of us focused on where the songs should go, what they should be and how they would enhance the storytelling. The fact that the story is set in both the 80s and the 50s also informed the style, and when Rando got involved, everything got even better thanks to his vast experience in musical theatre. Then, when the choreography was added, the results exceeded my expectations.

4. Famously Marty and Doc are portrayed in the movies by Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd; what advice did you share with Olly Dobson and Roger Bart who have stepped into the shoes of these iconic characters?

B: Well, I really didn't give them advice because that's the job of the director. But from the beginning, John's instincts were the same as mine.  He wanted all of the cast to build on the foundation of the movie characterizations, but for everyone to make their roles their own.  Roger Bart is a terrific actor, but he's very different than Christopher Lloyd, so we wanted his interpretation of Doc Brown to fit his unique strengths. And he truly shines. That's the way it should always be in theatre and it goes back to the earlier point about the musical not being a slavish reproduction of the film.

5. The show premiered in Manchester before the West End run went on sale.  What were the highlights of the Manchester run and what are you most looking forward to in the West End?

B: The first preview night in Manchester was incredible.  We had fans attending from all over the world, including Japan and South America, and probably 15 or 20% of them were in costumes.  I've attended numerous fan events and conventions over the years, including 3 consecutive nights of Secret Cinema in London, so I knew it would be crazy. But no one else had any idea, especially the cast, and they were absolutely blown away.  Many guys (always guys, never women) came up to me after our shows and confessed that they had never attended any musical theatre, and never knew what they were missing. And then I met people at performances who, believe it or not, had never seen the movie. And they too had a wonderful time. As far as the West End, well, just the experience of having our show playing there is very exciting to me. And with our Manchester run having been cut short, personally, I'm really looking forward to seeing the show again myself – and being able to get my friends and family to London who couldn't make it to Manchester.    

6. The cast will be reunited in 2021, what are you looking forward to most about getting everyone back to together again?

B: This musical has been one of the most creatively satisfying experiences of my life. Suddenly not being able to do it has been like a huge empty space in my life.  Everyone in the cast and crew became like family, and I truly miss my BTTF  So, returning to that camaraderie and comfort level, plus the emotional high that we get from the audience, I definitely cannot wait!

7. Is there a possibility of adapting the Back to the Future sequels into musicals?

B: I really don't see that happening. The first movie translates beautifully into a stage musical because Marty McFly aspires to be a rock and roll star.  He has a really good reason to sing and play music.  That's not an important element in the sequels, so a musical approach just doesn't seem intrinsic to the material.

8. If you could pick any other film to turn into a musical; what would it be and why?

B: “The Death of Stalin.” The film has a sense of absurdity which I think would work very well on stage. I'd love to see musical numbers featuring the Soviet Politburo singing about repressing the public, celebrating their hypocrisy and how they intend to stab one another in the back. I'm not sure that it would be a big crowd-pleaser, but I sure would like to see it.

9. When BTTF opens in the West End, it will be neighbours with many great musicals. Are you hoping to see any and if so, which?

B: Scheduling permitting, I plan to see everything I can. I'm starving to go back to the theatre as a member of the audience, as I'm sure so many of your readers are. Because for those who know, there is nothing like live theatre.

10. In three words, why should people come and see Back to the Future The Musical?

B: It's spectacular entertainment!


By Jade Ali

A love for theatre stemmed from my love of literature and music, but the West End on my doorstep opened up a whole new appreciation and passion for all things stage-y