NEW YORK – When actor Casey Likes watched “Back to the Future” growing up, his mom would always say he reminded her a lot of the film’s star, Michael J. Fox. Something in the universe agrees: He’s taken on Fox’s classic movie role on Broadway.
The rising stage star plays Marty McFly for a musical adaptation of the beloved 1985 sci-fi comedy about a time-traveling duo who go back to the 1950s in a souped-up, gull-winged DeLorean.
“I remember growing up and just really, really loving the film. It kind of sat in that realm of like ‘E.T.’ and ‘Close Encounters’ — movies that came at a time when film was magical,” says Likes, 21. “I hope we accomplish something kind of similar with Broadway.”
The show, which won the Olivier Award for best new musical last year in London, arrives at the Winter Garden Theatre this summer with a story by Bob Gale, who previously co-created and co-wrote the movie with Robert Zemeckis. It hews very closely to the original, including having a DeLorean onstage and the shout “Great Scott!”
Broadway veteran and Tony Award-winner Roger Bart takes on Christopher Lloyd’s role of Doc Brown, the oddball scientist with a knack for inventions. Bart recalls seeing “Back to the Future” in his early 20s when it first appeared in movie theaters. He watched with three friends from theater school and they were all secretly jealous of Fox.
“None of my friends — even knowing each other as well as we did — none of them, including my mother, ever nudged me and said, ‘No, no, kid. You’re Doc Brown. Just be patient,’” the Tony-winner says laughing.
Like the film, the musical centers on Marty McFly traveling back to his hometown in 1955. Once there, he gets caught up in the soap opera lives of his own teenage parents, including his mom, who develops a crush on her future son. He must reconnect mom and dad or he risks disappearing from history.
“We feel like it’s very important – I’m sure Casey would agree — for the public to come to the show and recognize that they are seeing that story in a different form but with all of its charms very deeply intact,” says Bart, whose Broadway credits include “The Producers,” “Disaster!” and “Young Frankenstein.”
New songs have been crafted by the film’s composer Alan Silvestri and songwriter and producer Glen Ballard. Some Huey Lewis and the News songs from the movie also have been included, like the theme tune “The Power of Love” and “Back in Time,” as well as Marty McFly’s futuristic rendition of “Johnny B. Goode.”
“We go back to the ‘50s, you get some songs that sound like ’Grease,' like ‘Bye Bye Birdie.’ And then we have some ‘80s moments in there that are very ’Footloose,'” says Likes. “It feels kind of like the greatest hits of not only rock ‘n’ roll, but of musical theater.”
While both men are fans of the films — and both got to meet the original stars at a gala last week — neither Bart nor Likes want to straightjacket themselves into the way Fox and Lloyd performed their roles.
“I don’t want to impersonate the movie. I want to remind you of the movie,” says Likes, who made his Broadway debut last year as the Cameron Crowe-inspired lead character of the musical “Almost Famous.”
“There’s a lot of things that Roger is doing that are similar, and there’s a lot of things that I’m doing that hopefully are similar to Michael. But we’re really just reminding you of their brilliance. Hopefully, at the same time, you’re able to kind of go along the journey with our Marty and Doc.”
In addition to being a cultural touchstone, “Back to the Future” was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry and the American Film Institute listed it as the No. 10 best science-fiction film. Bart thinks the movie's staying power is because it manages to straddle many worlds.
There's a time travel story and one about getting to know your parents as peers. There's a love story between Marty's parents and there's also a buddy movie — Marty and Doc putting their friendship on the line.
“Between all of these elements, it answers so many of the things that we love about that era of moviemaking and storytelling,” says Bart. “I think that’s one of the reasons why it is has sort of stuck around so long.”
Not to mention the fact that audiences can appreciate the story at different parts of their lives. Kids can enjoy the thrills and special effects; adults can be moved by the notion of meeting their own moms and dads. “Part of its sustaining power is the fact that it can mean one thing at one age and another at another,” says Bart.
Likes also adds another reason: Marty initially only wants to get back to his own time period to reconnect with his girlfriend. But his reasons start to change — save Doc, save his family, save the world.
"As the show goes on, there’s more stacked up reasons as to why he has to get back. And I think that’s a really interesting thing to think about in our own life," he says. “What would be our reasons to to get back to our current life?”
Mark Kennedy can be reached at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits