The clever concept of the original, at once joyously escapist and jeopardy-filled, entails turning the clock back so that the future-savvy protagonist becomes a surrogate parent to his own unwitting folks. The musical makes a canny song and dance out of his predicament, as he wards off his mother’s instinctual advances and coaxes his father from inhibition (if he doesn’t, he’ll never be born). It somehow savours the weirdness of Marty teaching his progenitor how to stand up for himself and make his moves, without being unsavoury.
The numbers don’t sound like Grammy-winners. Still, while there are throwbacks to old Broadway and flash-forwards to futuristic beats (in the irony-laden showstopper “21st Century”), in the main the smartly choreographed songs augment the 50s period outlook.
It’s a shame that a Covid positive test saw him defer to understudy Mark Oxtoby on opening night (the date of his return to be confirmed), because – on the evidence of his press preview, Roger Bart is perfect as Doc Brown, giving us wide eyes, rasping intonations (“Great Scott!”), and a warmth of his own.
The show would be a non-starter without the thrilling vehicle action, and thanks to video and illusionist wizardry, the steam-spouting DeLorean proves the main star of the night. The way it skids into view from nowhere and takes off over the stalls at the end, achieving a kind of 3D Hollywood magic, is enough to have you running to the gift stand, looking to buy a flux capacitor.
It’s a feelgood triumph. Is it the most sophisticated musical around? No, but it’s a no less exhilarating all-American entertainment drive-thru than Hamilton. And it so honours the benign ethos of those 80s blockbuster movies, it almost invites further in-roads into the canon. Next stop, ET?