Great Scott! Fresh from the future, we had the chance to catch up with Cory English. We discussed what it’s like taking on such an iconic role, what inspires him everyday and his relationship with the audience!
How are you and how is the show doing?
I’m absolutely thrilled to come back and do the show! I did it for six weeks at Christmas time, from November to December, so to be asked to be back in the spring is remarkable. I love it!
What is it like to play the iconic Doc Brown on stage?
I don’t want to say it’s easy, because it is not! But the role does suit me a lot. With my energy and being able to let it all out by singing, dancing and acting every night with some great lines and performers opposite me, it makes it an absolute delight to go in there and work! It’s very exciting when the audience hears the first notes of the trumpet because you can instantly feel the buzz. It’s just great!
The audience and the performers bounce off of each other’s energy a lot! How do you maintain that energy as Doc Brown?
You know, like everybody else, the job isn’t the same every day. Your day is different every single day. So some nights, the audience walks into the theatre and they’re either really ready for a show and they are going to give the energy to the actors, or they had a really long day and they just want to be home or go to a pub to enjoy a little drink, they’re not really in the mood to watch theatre. That is when it’s our job as actors to lift them up!
To be perfectly honest, a couple of Saturday matinees ago, I didn’t feel very funny, I didn’t feel like doing the show. But from the first round of applause and Marty’s entrance, they just went wild! (laughs) He literally just opened the door and the audience went nuts! That’s when I thought, “Oh, they’re going to give me the energy today.” It inspired me instantly and got me ready for the show.
It works both ways! The audience can feed me and some nights, I’ll have to boost them up. I’m ready for either. If it’s even, I will listen to music, I will watch videos of past funny comedians and funny songs to get me into the mood. But as soon as I start getting into my doc (in Doc’s voice), I’m there. I’m ready.
There are also a lot of kids in the audience. Most of them might have not even watched the movie before. How do you manage to catch their attention and immerse them as well in the story as a performer?
With this show especially, Doc Brown is a favourite when it comes to kids. When he pulls out that fire extinguisher or with his very animated facial expressions and physical comedy, the kids are pretty much on board. For example, there was a five-year-old in the audience the other night and when I did the fire extinguisher bit, where I tasted the powder, I said, “it’s minty!” and from the front row he went “you’re nuts!”. He shouted it! And when I started “For The Dreamers”, the mom had dragged the kid out. He wasn’t there anymore, and it made me sad because he was in it! He was enjoying watching the story. Of course, he might have been a little disruptive, but he was living it. It’s so much better than when you see a five or six-year-old on the phone during the show. That hurts! Certainly, you can tell that the parents are into it more than their kids sometimes! (laughs).
Out of all the characters, Doc Brown seems like the perfect one to interact with the audience!
Roger Bart originated the character in the West End and Christopher Lloyd played him in the movies. Were they inspirations for your version of Doc?
There is a little bit of Roger and a little bit of Christopher and a little bit of Bob Gale, the creator of the show, and then me. In order to make it real and truthful, you have to put a bit of yourself in it. If you just do an impersonation, it would be alright, but it won’t be as real and truthful for the actor and the audience.
Obviously, I took from Christopher Lloyd but Roger Bart was so generous in giving hints to make the character my own. He gave me some wonderful advice on when to go for the big laughs. It was really beneficial and because we worked together for a year and a half on the road in America and on Broadway, we have that kind of relationship. He was absolutely ego-less in his generosity and handing over the part, which is very rare for an actor to do. He is quite special.
As you were taking on the role of Doc, did you feel pressure from the crowd or the fans?
Sure, yes! I felt some pressure but a lot of it, I was putting on myself! But you know when you’ve got a good script and you know you have a great character, sometimes doing just a little bit less, you are going to be alright. I did two other shows with some iconic movie characters, The Producers and Young Frankenstein, so I am used to the pressure that I will get compared to other folks. But you know, the actors in the movie, they didn’t have to do it eight times a week, with singing and dancing, in a house of 15 000 people, so…
If anything, I wanted to give the Back To The Future the musical fans what they wanted. I didn’t want to offend them because of their love for the film and the musical so I felt a little pressure to make sure that they got exactly what they wanted out of it. I think I’ve done that!
And obviously, physically, I don’t match Roger Bart or Christopher Lloyd. I’m definitely on the shorter side! I walked into my audition and said “I am the Danny DeVito option! If you want to go short, I’m your guy!” (laughs). Physically wise, I can’t change it, so it was up to them to make that decision. But energy-wise, I knew that I could handle it perfectly.
As a fan of both the musical and the movie, you’re more expecting to find the energy and the comedy of Doc Brown, rather than his physical appearance. As long as you make us laugh, you ticked a lot of boxes!
Roger also made a great point. He said, as soon as you say the line, “I don’t know they just show up every time I sing”, in response to Marty’s “Doc, who are the girls?”, in “It Works”, you’ve got them!
I’m blessed with lines like that, helps everything.
Let’s talk about the relationships of the musical, especially Marty and Doc’s relationship. How did you, and Ben Joyce who plays Marty, build up that relationship?
That relationship is really interesting because it’s much like a father-and-son relationship. I have a 16- year-old and I am 54. In the story, Marty is 17 while Doc is probably around mid-fifties to sixty, so I am familiar with this kind of relationship. I look at Ben and I see a young upcoming theatre star, and it’s very exciting to see him grow every night! There is an instant love affair with him because it’s more than just an apprentice story. Doc doesn’t have a lot of friends and here is Marty showing up and helping him with his experiments and not really asking any questions but going along with it, that’s a beautiful thing for Doc!
The big moment for my Doc is in 1955 when he says, “you’re stuck here, there is no way I can get 1.21 gigawatts of electricity, it’s impossible!” and then Marty kind of loses it and breaks down and Doc sees that he has to help this young man. That he has to help him get back to his family. I think that’s where my Doc has an extra bit of caring and love for Marty.
I also love how they don’t really explain how they became friends in the first place. You have to accept that this young kid and this insane scientist just get along very well, and it’s totally normal!
Roger has his idea, and I have mine and Bob Gale also has his actually!
Also, with the music side of it, Marty likes to play guitar and Doc likes to make really loud noises, so maybe Doc was like “try this amp!” (laughs). But, whatever version of their backstory the audience imagines, is perfect.
Now what’s your relationship with your character?
It’s another love story. I love Doc! In “For The Dreamers”, I think I attached myself mostly to Doc. The dreaming aspect of it can work in so many ways. Every night, my dreamers are different. Some nights it can be looking at Ben and just singing this song to him. The audience doesn’t know that, they think it’s still Doc and Marty but sometimes it’s just Ben and me.
Some nights I sing to my son. Some nights I think of my old choreographers, dancers and people that have helped me out through my whole career and it’s for them. For those dreams that they had.
Some nights it’s for Einstein and Edison because they’re amazing. Or for the young boys and girls or mom and dad in the front row of the audience. It’s for those people’s dreams.
And also I love being a Rockstar and, in the end, I also love doing “It Works”. I never had background dancers! It’s a great way to open the show!
It is nice to see a softer side of the character with “For The Dreamers”!
Yes! Especially with the comedy side. I remember Roger said that I shouldn’t be afraid, that I could go there. That I can go to that sentimental place where comedians don’t get to go really often. Usually, they want us to keep being funny! That whole scene starts with me yelling at Marty “I don’t want to know about the future!” and I get really angry. Then I have to pull it back and sing a sentimental song. It’s a challenge every night but it is also extremely satisfying.
I won’t speak for Roger, but with a character like that, you’re acting and you get to do all of it, not just the clowning. That’s why I could probably play this part for a year! It’s those kinds of scenes that tie us in. As actors, we like to use all of ourselves. With singing, dancing and clowning and also being able to talk truthfully is a real treat to have a role like that.
What do you expect the audience to take away from Doc’s journey?
Something different from the movie is that they get to know Doc a little bit more. Especially that dreamer side that Bob Gale put in. Maybe the dads that love the movie are thinking of their children during the show and are keen on taking a risk, like Doc has, for their dreams and the people they love. I think it’s a cool thing to take away from our musical.
How do you think the younger audience resonates with this character that is much older than they are?
I think all the children can relate to the passion and the childlike behaviour and how he treats his passion and the excitement over playing with a little toy car and making tiny explosions! Also his excitement over being a big child. That’s very me! My wife would tell you that I’m very childlike! (laughs). Whether they realize it or not, I want them to think “Oh, when I grow up, I want to be like him, like Doc!”. I know I certainly had in the past!
There is something for everyone in Doc’s character!
Cory’s run-through :
If you could travel back in time or relieve a major moment in your life, what would it be?
The first thing that comes to mind is that my mom and dad were married in the early fifties and my dad built a house in the early sixties. So when they talk about George and Lorraine, that period is huge for me. And also, the New York Yankees, my baseball team, won the World Series back then and they were amazing! (laugh)
Would you rather relieve the past or explore the future?
I got to go to the past! I love history, maybe that’s why I love Europe so much.
Favorite line in the show?
There are quite a few! There are “I don’t know, they just show up every time I sing!” and “And you gotta pick up your mother!” where I get to have a small giggle and the audience loves it every time.
How would you convince people to come and see the show?
The car is the star! I’m not going to lie! I’ll just show them a picture of the car! It’s really phenomenal. Alongside great stories, the special effects are incredible. Nothing to take away from the actors but it’s really high-tech! (laughs).
Thank you to Cory English for the fun interview and to Amy for for arranging it!