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18th February 2020

In conversation: Alan Silvestri, Glen Ballard and Bob Gale at the Back to the Future Press Junket

Theatre Editor Jay Darcy interviews 6 x Grammy winner Glen Ballard, 2 x Grammy and 2 x Emmy winner Alan Silvestri, and Bob Gale, the co-writer of Back to the Future
In conversation: Alan Silvestri, Glen Ballard and Bob Gale at the Back to the Future Press Junket
Colin Ingram, Glen Ballard, Alan Silvestri and Bob Gale. Photo: Jay Darcy @ The Mancunion.

Following on from the launch event of Back to the Future the musical, held at Albert Hall last October, a press junket was held at The Ivy last week to make some further announcements. This involved the cast and crew being interviewed by executive producer Colin Ingram, before I got the chance to interview two cast-members and three creatives.

My interview with cast-members Hugh Coles and Rosanna Hyland can be found here.

Back in October, I got to chat to Bob Gale, the co-writer of the original film.

Gale knew that Back to the Future (BTTFwould make a great musical, especially with Marty being a musician and being “supposed to sing,” in contrast to the Spider-Man musical, which he referred to as being “the stupidest idea for a musical,” because Spider-Man wears a mask, so the audience can’t even see him sing!

Indeed, you might notice that whilst posters for The Phantom of the Opera, which arrives in Manchester shortly, include a mask that covers most of his face, the stage musical features what is now termed a “Phantom” mask, covering only one eye. This is because the creatives realised that a mask that coves both eyes would mask (pardon the pun) too much facial expression, but the poster had already been designed.

Bob wants audiences to know that Marty is still Marty and Doc is still Doc, and they will love seeing them sing and dance. Whilst the musical has some slight tweaks because we are now in the future, there won’t be attempts to be “woke” or “PC,” as is often the case with modern adaptations.

It was nice to catch up with Gale at the press junket this week, four months on from the original launch event.

Gale was joined by several actors, executive producer Colin Ingram (who interviewed his colleagues) and six-time Grammy winner Glen Ballard and two-time Grammy and two-time Emmy winner Alan Silvestri, who are responsible for the show’s music; the latter worked on the music for the original film series.

Both Ballard and Silvestri were noticeably modest. When I remarked that I was in owe over how accomplished they were, Ballard pointed to Silvestri, and he later remarked that, “Al and I did a movie with Bob (Robert) Zemeckis… called Polar Express,” as if the film is not legendary and renowned, which I found very humble.

Silvestri’s other credits include The Avengers, Avengers: Endgame, The Bodyguard, Captain America: The First Avenger, Cast Away, Forrest Grump, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.

Ballard has worked with the likes of Aerosmith, Katy Perry, Michael Jackson and Paula Abdul, but is best-known for co-writing and producing Alanis Morisette’s album Jagged Little Pill and co-writing Jackson’s Man in the Mirror.

Silvestri is also working on the music for the upcoming remake of my favourite kid’s film, The Witches. He teased that Anne Hathaway and Octavia Spencer are “amazing” in this Zemeckis film.

Meanwhile, Ballard has worked with my favourite singer, Shakira, whom I’ve written two articles about: both before and after Super Bowl.

To my delight, he called her “amazing,” “very beautiful,” and “a real intellectual,” summing her up as having “it all”, with Silvestri remembering Ballard saying great things about her and calling her a real pro.

But now we’ve established Shakira’s Lips “Don’t Lie”, because she really is ‘humble’ like her breasts, let’s go Back to the Future

Silvestri told me the musical’s creation began as “an investigation by Bob (Robert) Zemeckis, Bob Gale, Glen and myself”, asking is this possible?

Ballard and Silvestri wrote some songs, the first of which was written around the film’s theme, and played them for the Bobs. All four came to the agreement that, yes, BTTF could be a musical.

Ballard believes that he and Silvestri having worked with Zemeckis on Polar Express almost twenty years ago gave them some sense of how to approach this musical.

Whilst they have created new music, Ballard said there was ‘no way’ they would ever leave out the iconic songs from the film, including The Power of Love. I told them I’m glad they are not doing a “Sister Act” and opting for all new music.

Ballard remarked that Earth Angel is part of the fabric, and the biggest moment in telling the story, so of course it will be in the musical.

Still, some fans of the film might be a little worried seeing it turned into a stage musical, but with Gale and Silvestri having written and composed the original film, they are certainly in safe hands.

“My presence, my name on this thing is the guarantee to all fans that you’re in good hands,” Gale stated.

In fact, even Michael J. Fox, and other original cast-members (including Christopher Lloyd, who was at the launch event) are onboard. Gale told me they will hopefully get him down for the West End Press Night.

But “this is Back to the Future,” Silvestri remarked. “It’s not the movie.”

They have captured the spirit of BTTF and are allowing it to live and breathe in a completely different medium. If somebody wants to watch the movie, they can just go and watch the movie, but the musical will be a “very satisfying experience” for big fans of BTTF.

But Gale believes younger people who have never seen the film will also love the musical, because the story is “strong,” the characters are “wonderful”, and the humour is “really funny”.

As the father of BTTF, he remarked that he is “so excited about this” and it is wonderful to see these “iconic scenes” come to life onstage.

“It’s the same but it’s different,’ he remarked, hoping people who have watched the film like the way the scenes play onstage.

The overall story is exactly the same, but some of the “trappings” are different, for instance, they cannot do a skateboard race onstage. Instead, there will be “something else” and “an Easter egg” or “tribute” to the skateboard chase that people will appreciate. Meanwhile, people who have never seen the movie will not think anything of it.

They have had to lose some jokes, but in place of them, they have gotten songs, dance-numbers and “new jokes”.

As for people who want all of the stuff in the movie and no changes or updates: “stay at home and watch the movie,” Gale  remarked.

The musical is a celebration of the original film but also offers a few allusions to the sequel, which I’m sure fans will enjoy.

Gale also wanted to point out that the movie was filmed in the 80s and set in the 80s and 50s, whilst the musical is performed in the 2020s but set in the 80s and 50s, so there will be some gags and nuances about the 80s.

So, are you ready to make a trip to the past for 2 hours and a half? Just be warned: you might not want to come back to the future/present once you’re there!

Back to the Future runs at the Opera House from the 20th of February to the 17th of May.

Jay Darcy

Jay Darcy

Theatre Editor. Instagram & Twitter: @jaydarcy7. Email: [email protected].

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