‘Back to the Future: The Musical’ star Olly Dobson is ready to up the ante onstage
Olly Dobson is one of Back to the Future’s biggest fans, so it’s been a dream come true to step into the shoes (and onto the skateboard) of the time-travelling teenager Marty McFly in the new stage adaptation, which is set to open at the Adelphi Theatre in the West End in August.
But to make this iconic character really sing, both literally and figuratively, onstage, Dobson has to take things up a notch.
“The ante has to be up,” Dobson says of translating the beloved movie into a musical. Fortunately, the stage show is written by the same team behind the movie: Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis. The score features original music by Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard as well as some of the pop hits from the movie.
“People my age, my sister's age, my parents, my grandma — everyone loves it,” Dobson said. “And I know that people are going to love our story too.”
London Theatre chatted with Dobson about bringing the beloved classic to the stage, getting ready to perform after lockdown, and why this story will resonate with audiences even more now.
Were you a fan of the film?
It's my family's favorite film. We always watch it every Christmas, and it was the first film that really sat me down in front of the TV and hooked me, and it was the first time that anything had ever done that to me. And I was really, really small, and I've just loved it ever since. Marty's been an idol of mine ever since my childhood. So it is a bit of a dream come true to be in this situation, to be honest.
Marty McFly is an iconic teenage character, originally made so by Michael J. Fox on screen. What’s your mindset as you’re approaching a role like that for the stage? Do you want to pay homage to the movie or completely make it your own?
I'm like a huge fan. It's not something that is posted all over my bedroom wall, but I love the movie. I'm committed to it. Every time I sit down to watch it, I always find something new. But you said a word, homage, to what Michael J. Fox did, and it's not that that's exactly what I'm doing, but there are moments for me, being that fan, that need to be kept true to the moment of how intense it was when you're watching it.
I feel like it's imperative to give the people what they want in a way, but also allow myself as an actor to take these lines and actually really see how much they weigh on the situation and how much they really hone in on the scenes emotionally, and being on stage, those things have to be upped.
Other than the film, what are some other inspirations that you have for the character?
I realized early on in the first workshop that I had to develop his singing voice and how that would marry to my take on Marty's voice. He's quite an iconic guy. My inspiration was for my love for rock music and certain singers would be up there as an inspiration for me, really taking that through.
Anyone in particular? Marty is a rock ‘n’ roll musician after all.
It's funny how lockdown has really made me look at who I keep going back to and who I don't. And one of the bands growing up for me was Red Hot Chili Peppers. And the way that Anthony Kiedis was so percussive with his sound. I like to do what he does, but just make the sounds longer. We get the musical aspect, but that punchy aspect and that sort of angst. Other big sounds for me, like large voices, like Elton John, Stevie Wonder, those sort of powerhouses. That was something that I felt was needed when I'm hitting the higher notes.
Are you bringing anything from your own experience to the character?
Oh, I reckon that must be. I really watched Michael J. Fox in the film for the research and the physicality that he brings to get that sort of bouncy sprightly feel to being a teenager. He's a kid. And I feel like I maybe needed to just sort of be the kid in me as opposed to being a kid. So that sort of playful feel that I do think that I have in my life is something that I'm trying to let flow through the scenes.
The show is about time travel, and we all kind of wish we could travel back in time at the moment. How do you think those themes, along with the story about love and family, will resonate differently after the year we’ve had?
It’s great that people will have that outlet to really escape in their minds from anything in life. I don't want to say too much, but I really do think that this show will give people a lot after the lockdowns — humour, themes of love and family. Especially when there's a lot of separation between the family and they want to get that back together. I cannot stress the humour enough, that the comic genius that is Roger Bart (as Doc Brown), and its so many lovely levels, but it's still a really well-balanced show.
What about for you? The show had to close abruptly in Manchester with the first Covid-19 lockdowns. What does it mean to get back to the stage?
I've learned so much about myself, and because of the secluded lifestyle that everyone's been living over the last year, there are a certain amount of things that you realize you want to do and don't want to do. And one of those things (that I wanted to do) was going back into the show and making sure that I can just treat the role with the utmost respect.
I just can't wait to get back into a theatre with the cast, some of my best friends, and I can't wait to get together again with them and the stage crew and the stage management and everyone working in that theatre and just feel like another family again. I think that's what a lot of people are craving. It's what a lot of people need. And when it does come, it will be so good.
Photo credit: Olly Dobson as Marty McFly (Photo by Sean Ebsworth Barnes)