A gleaming DeLorean sports car swerves into sight on stage amid lightning bolts and dry ice. The audience at New York’s Winter Garden Theatre gasps and applauds. A red-vested Marty McFly looks on wide-eyed as an Einstein-haired Doc Brown belts out “It Works,” an over-the-top song-and-dance number hailing his discovery of time travel.
First staged in Manchester, England, in 2020, Back to the Future: The Musical has become a megahit since debuting on Broadway in 2023. This action-packed adaptation of the 1985 sci-fi comedy that made Michael J. Fox famous captures the original movie’s heart and humour.
Beyond the peppy new songs created by Alan Silvestri, who penned the 1985 score, and Glen Ballard, whose credits include Michael Jackson and Alanis Morissette, attending the musical offers some other fun differences.
For instance, there are Back to the Future-themed cocktails such as Outatime (peach vodka, club soda, cranberry juice) and 88 MPH (bourbon, ginger ale, lime juice) or a T-shirt with Doc’s classic line: “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” Lively intermission conversations are sure to ensue about topics like the uncanny resemblance of Casey Likes, who portrays Marty, to Growing Pains-era Kirk Cameron.
For close to 40 years, Back to the Future has remained omnipresent in pop culture. Take the Universal Studios motion simulator ride, launched in 1991. Or Risto Pakarinen’s upbeat 2019 novel Someday Jennifer about a middle-aged Finn nostalgically obsessed with the movie. Or more seriously, Fox’s award-winning 2023 documentary Still, which reveals how the diminutive Canadian actor dealt with Parkinson’s during his Hollywood rise.
Still, it’s natural to wonder, “Why come to Manhattan specifically to experience Marty’s adventures in the imaginary town of Hill Valley, California?”
One answer is right next door to the Winter Garden Theatre at the corner of Broadway and West 51st Street. For those seeking a preshow lunch or dinner, the delightfully kitschy Ellen’s Stardust Diner complements the main storyline in which Marty accidentally travels back to 1955 and finds himself forced to make his parents fall in love.
Celebrate the all-important Enchantment Under the Sea Dance by enjoying a Pineapple Under the Sea Margarita, Big Bopper Burger, and cherry-topped Stardust Sundae Shake. The chicken matzo ball soup with carrots is also deliciously unmissable.
The bustling two-level diner is best-known for its singing servers. Beneath a glittering mirror ball and confetti cannons, these aspiring stars deliver Broadway-quality vocals. Tunes range from 1950’s Back to the Future staples like “Earth Angel” and “Johnny B. Goode”—complete with the guitar-slinging Chuck Berry duck walk that Marty performs—to contemporary hits like Bruno Mars’s “Marry You” and Duncan Laurence’s “Arcade.”
If 1985 is more your jam, visit The Woo Woo for cocktails inspired by the glitziest decade. Decorwise, the staircase to this underground midtown speakeasy harkens back to Times Square’s risqué ’80s past. Pink neon-lit fun awaits inside.
Movies like The Karate Kid, Flashdance, and Back to the Future loop on TV screens while a vintage Nintendo offers Super Mario antics. Mixologist Frank Oley’s ready-to-party concoctions include Purple Rain (for gin fanatics), Eye of the Tiger (rum punch magic), and Donkey Kong (hello, house banana bitters!).
Walking around the Big Apple provides more intriguing opportunities to explore the legacy of the 1961-born Fox. Canadians often think of him as vying with Michael Bublé and Joe Sakic for the title of Burnaby’s most famous son.
However, Fox is a long-time Manhattan resident. Not only did he play the deputy mayor of New York in Spin City (1996-2000), but his Fifth Avenue apartment was showcased in Architectural Digest. As a birthday present, his wife and former Family Ties co-star Tracy Pollan arranged to put a plaque on a bench in nearby Central Park’s Conservatory Garden, honouring him and the family dog. It reads: “For Mike Fox and Gus. True New Yorkers.”
At the southeast corner of Central Park, you’ll find The Pierre. The 1993 romantic comedy For Love or Money was filmed at this venerable five-star hotel, with Fox playing an ambitious concierge. Keep travelling back in time as you check out Fox-related NYC landmarks from 1991’s The Hard Way, 1987’s The Secret of My Success, and so on.
Bibliophiles gravitate to the Drama Book Shop on West 39th Street. The cozy, 1917-founded shop is packed with drama students perusing stage plays and movie scripts. Staff members are happy to help you track down Michael Klastorin’s elegant coffee table book Creating Back to the Future: The Musical or Ian Doescher’s hilarious William Shakespeare’s Get Thee Back to the Future.
Director Robert Zemeckis, who helmed all three Back to the Future movies through 1990, is adamant there’ll never be a fourth sequel. Nonetheless, scripting your own feel-good adventure in New York is time well spent.