Interview with Back to the Future the Musical producer Colin Ingram

Posted on 21 October 2020

From screen to stage, Back to the Future The Musical is making its way to the West End at 88mph and the excitement levels are already at 1.21 gigawatts! After a sparking success at its world premiere in Manchester, the musical adaptation of the cult phenomenon is making its way to London; set to open at the Adelphi Theatre in May 2021. Back to the Future tickets are selling quicker than a DeLorean bursting with plutonium so make like a tree and book the best available seats before they disappear!

In anticipation of the musicals transfer and given the celebration of Back to the Future day, we had a chat with producer Colin Ingram. Ingram’s works include Grease The Musical, Ghost The Musical and Billy Elliot The Musical. Read below to see what Colin had to say all about this time travelling new venture!

Q&A with Colin Ingram

1. Your previous works include bringing Billy Elliot and Ghost from screen to stage; how did this prepare you for the challenge of the Back to the Future adaptation?

Colin: When I first met with Bob Gale and Bob Zemeckis I was able to explain the process of turning a film into a musical having worked on Billy Elliot and Ghost and was able to talk about how musicals use songs as film “close-ups” of characters. From Ghost, I was aware of how hard it can be for film writers to choose what can and what can’t be in a musical adaptation and how economic you have to be with the number of locations and special effects that you can stage.  Getting a great dramaturge director like John Rando was essential to able this process and he worked extensively with the Bobs on the book of the musical.

2. Why did you want to work on bringing Back to the Future to the stage?

C: Four of many reasons are:

(1) The story of BTTF is so theatrical – though it’s heightened in the film and it’s clearly sci-fi, we talk about the characters as if they are in the real world – it’s such a rich source material for a musical.

(2) The film has a huge heart – what better a musical theatre story about a son teaching his father to have the confidence to ask his mum out on a date? The show’s message is “if you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything” – it’s a big universal message that works well in a musical. 

(3) A musical should have big characters like Doc Brown and George McFly to sing and give their “close-ups”. 

(4) The film gave us huge opportunities for illusion effects – something I knew well from my time on Ghost. The “mega-musicals” of the 1980s were why I got into theatre: Cats, Les Misérables, Phantom of the Opera, etc – all big special effects.  I love the thrill that it gives audiences – pure escapism and joy.

3. Back to the Future is a huge phenomenon! How would you reassure fans that this adaptation does justice to the beloved movie?

C: One name: Bob Gale – the original screenwriter.  He’s the book writer and a producer on the new musical who is very actively involved. Bob makes sure that the stage musical keeps within “the world” of Back To The Future – he’s the gatekeeper of the franchise.  When we opened in Manchester, we had a huge number of the film fans and they were blown away – the feedback was amazing. We have managed to create this different world to tell this familiar story which is deeply enriching and entertaining for fans of the film

4. What would you say the addition of songs adds to the story of Back to the Future?

C: As Lerner and Lowe said, a song should be 30 pages of dialogue and I think Glen and Alan’s songs give us more insight into the characters – why Doc is motivated to do what he does, why Marty is so frustrated at being in a small town and shows his teenage frustration. It gives us another dimension of the characters that the film can’t convey.  Of course, we have all the songs from the film: “Power of Love”, “Back In Time”, “Johnny B. Goode” and “Earth Angel” and lots of Alan Silvestri’s film score, but Glen and Alan have written some terrific songs for the 1950s and 1980s which bring the scenes so alive. One great example is the role of Goldie Wilson who has several songs in the show – he’s such a great vehicle for musical theatre songs.

5. Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd famously portray the characters of Doc Brown and Marty McFly. Why do you think Roger Bart and Olly Dobson are the perfect choices for the musical?

C: Wow! Well, Olly not only looks and sounds like MJF, but has the same mannerisms.  Given Olly is in his twenties, he gives a contemporary feel to the character which audiences are also going to love.  Roger Bart is one of the most inventive actors I have worked with in 25 years. He is so incredibly funny but also sings with great heart. Doc has my favourite song in the show called “Dreamers” and it stops the show every night.  Though there is a nod to Chris Lloyd in his performance, it’s very much his own.  I believe people will talk about his performance for a long time.

6. Did you ever think the story needed updating for 2020 or were you aiming to make something nostalgic and new?

C: Yes, this question was put to Bob Gale early on.  In 2020, we can laugh at the 1980s which we thought would give us lots of opportunities for comedy as well as celebrating the 80s fashion, attitudes and music.  Though less people will remember the 1950s now, we can all relate to our parents and grandparents who come from that era and we all know it’s iconography.  We have a song on the show called “Cake” which pokes fun at the 1950s with a dark undercurrent – everything is fine on the surface but troubling underneath.

7. You’ve had shows, such as Ghost, go around the world; do you think Back to the Future The Musical will open elsewhere in the future?

C: I do – we have already had discussions about Germany, Korea and of course the United States and I believe we will be going around the world.  I’ve had Ghost play 18 countries now from Brazil to Turkey, Hungary to Russia and have built up a really good network of producers.

8. Are there any other films that you’re dreaming of adapting from screen to stage?

C: Ahh, well that would be telling!  I am already working on two new musicals with big titles and BRIT award composers, but they are not big shows like Back To The Future.  It’s taken me 8 years to get this show here, and I need a faster turnaround time now!  But yes, there are a couple of other choice titles where the rights are complicated that I’d like to do.

9. You’ve worked in the theatre industry for 25 years; what excites you the most about theatres reopening?

C: Well, of course, the circumstances are unprecedented. The evidence and of course our big hope is that there will be a big pent up demand for theatre when we eventually reopen.  I’m already daydreaming about what the reaction will be like when we open Back To The Future – the reaction in Manchester was incredible, but I think it’s going to be extremely emotional for both the cast and the audience when we reopen in London. Everyone having a live shared experience with this show is going to be quite overwhelming. As the producer who has put this show together, that will be a very rewarding moment.

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

C: Never seen before!


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