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1985 sci-fi comedy 'Back to the Future' and its famous DeLorean are now on Broadway

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A musical based on the classic 1985 sci-fi comedy “Back To The Future” has come to Broadway.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE OUTATIME ORCHESTRA'S "BACK TO THE FUTURE OVERTURE")

SHAPIRO: The show has this attention-grabbing special effect, a DeLorean car that actually flies. Jeff Lunden went to see it.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: After a recent matinee of "Back To The Future," dozens of families poured onto Broadway. One of them, the Angelos, traveled from Sugarloaf, Penn., to see the show. And their 8-year-old daughter Lula loved it.

LULA ANGELO: It was amazing. And the car - I can't even speak about it. It went upside down.

LUNDEN: Finn Ross is the video designer of "Back To The Future," part of a team which takes the much-loved film and makes it work in the theater. And even though Doc Brown's plutonium-powered DeLorean only appears in a handful of sequences, Ross says...

FINN ROSS: I think the most important rule we gave to ourselves is the car is the star. Like, we can't overpower the car. We have to create a world for the car to inhabit and be free to move around in.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT WORKS")

CASEY LIKES: (As Marty McFly) It's a time machine? Wait a minute. Wait a minute, Doc. Are you trying to tell me that you built a time machine out of a DeLorean?

LUNDEN: The design team worked with director John Rando over a series of workshops to figure out how to make the car look like it's speeding through Hill Valley, how it could leave fiery skid marks, fly and appear seemingly out of nowhere. That trick was figured out by illusions designer Chris Fisher.

CHRIS FISHER: So I have Marty sail through on the skateboard, lit through the space. So there's nothing there. We're saying there's nothing there. And then bang, bang, bang, there's the DeLorean.

LUNDEN: Pulling the illusion off took days of technical rehearsal with the stage crew, all of whom are sworn to secrecy.

FISHER: Because when you find out a secret of how magic works, it's actually quite disappointing.

LUNDEN: Set designer Tim Hatley made a 3D scan of a real DeLorean and then created a car which is slightly smaller in scale to fit onstage and do everything it's asked to do, which includes being danced on.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT WORKS")

ROGER BART: (As Doc Brown, singing) It's a time machine that goes both ways to new tomorrows and to yesterdays.

TIM HATLEY: Inside it all is a mechanical, steel, aluminum madness of gizmos and electronics and what we call turtles to make it spin, motors, lights, effects, smoke machines, speakers. It's crammed with that. You can just get a person in it.

LUNDEN: Director John Rando says Bob Gale, who wrote the script for the movie and the musical, made one change to the way the car works.

JOHN RANDO: So he had the DeLorean speak and, you know, be voice-activated only by Doc.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "BACK TO THE FUTURE: THE MUSICAL")

LIKES: (As Marty McFly) Start the car.

AUTOMATED VOICE: (As The DeLorean) Voice not recognized.

LIKES: (As Marty McFly) I said start the car, d*** it.

AUTOMATED VOICE: (As The DeLorean) Profanity not necessary.

LUNDEN: There's an LED wall at the back of the stage and a scrim in the front with the car sandwiched in between. While the car itself moves a bit and the wheels light up, Finn Ross' video helps it look like it's picking up speed when it travels back and forward in time.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "BACK TO THE FUTURE: THE MUSICAL")

BART: (As Doc Brown) Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads.

LUNDEN: The piece de resistance is the car flying at the end. John Rando says set designer Tim Hatley invited him to his studio and held a model in his hand.

RANDO: And he said, you know, it's going to do this. It's going to go up in the air, and then it's going to turn. And then it's going to come towards the audience, and then it's going to go out over the audience. And I'm like, OK. And then it's going to do a 360, and then it's going to turn around and go on its merry way. And, yeah, I think that's really good (laughter).

LUNDEN: Or, as Lula Angelo says, amazing.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE POWER OF LOVE")

LIKES: (As Marty McFly, singing) The power of love is a curious thing, make'a one man weep, make another man sing - change a hawk to a little white dove. More than a feeling, that's the power of love. Tougher than diamonds, rich like cream, stronger and harder than a bad girl's dream, make a bad one good, make a wrong one right... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jeff Lunden is a freelance arts reporter and producer whose stories have been heard on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition, as well as on other public radio programs.
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