Broadway's “Back to the Future” Musical: Watch How They Recreated That Epic Clocktower Scene (Exclusive)

“We pulled it off!” says director John Rando in a video PEOPLE can exclusively premiere breaking down the anatomy of the stage stunner

Back to the Future fans know the scene well. In the 1985 film's final moment, Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) climbs atop the clocktower to plug in a cord that'll power the time machine once struck by lightning to send Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) back to the future — leaving just a trail of fire on the road in its wake.

It's a masterclass in cinematic storytelling, one of the most memorable scenes in the history of the silver screen. So one could only imagine the challenge the team behind the blockbuster Broadway musical had when it came to recreating the moment for audiences in a theatrical, three-dimensional way.

Luckily, producers had a power team of creatives at the helm, including director John Rando, illusion designer Chris Fisher, set and costume designer Tim Hatley, co-lighting designer Hugh Vanstone, video designer Finn Ross, sound designer Gareth Owen, as well as Nick Finlow, the musical supervisor for the vocal and music arrangements.

The team all sat down to break down the anatomy of the musical's clock tower sequence in a video PEOPLE can premiere exclusively.

“I’ve never had to be so collaborative with a team in order to create something so heightened as the clock tower sequence is," says Finlow, with Fisher stressing, "Every single element of the design needs to come together. Everything is important in that moment."

<p>Matthew Murphy/Evan Zimmerman</p> Roger Bart and Casey Likes in 'Back to the Future: The Musical'

Matthew Murphy/Evan Zimmerman

Roger Bart and Casey Likes in 'Back to the Future: The Musical'

Related: Al Roker Makes a Surprise Appearance in Broadway's Back to the Future Musical: ‘A Dream Come True’

To set a road map, Hatley took the sequence from the movie "literally storyboarded it frame by frame." Using that as a starting point, he says, "it became really clear to me that we needed to utilize what the film does brilliantly which is long shot and close up. It's all a question of picking out and showing the audience what we want them to see."

That meant capturing the audience's focus through the art of distraction. "It's slight sort of trick of the eye," Hatley says. "[While] we're looking at Doc at the top of the tower and he's going off stage left or stage right, we're actually changing the set behind in the dark and we're moving the car into position, ready to jump-cut to Marty driving in the car."

Experimentation became a key part of solving the puzzle. "We basically had our set on stage and a big plan, we had the little car, and we were just driving it around saying, 'What if the car did this? What if the car did that?' " recalls Fisher. "We then went into workshop stage of just workshopping all these crazy ideas we had."

<p>Matthew Murphy/Evan Zimmerman</p> Roger Bart in 'Back to the Future: The Musical'

Matthew Murphy/Evan Zimmerman

Roger Bart in 'Back to the Future: The Musical'

Related: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, More 'Back to the Future' Stars Reunite at Gala for Broadway Musical

One idea that was initially tried out, Rando says, was a treadmill staircase Doc Brown would run up to get to the top of the clock tower. "But then we had the idea that, 'Why don't we just cut the stairs and just use video for it?' And that was the moment of real theatrical genius for us where we figured out that, 'Oh this could not only be really cool but also, quite funny.' "

Another challenge? Getting the DeLorean to look like its going the required 88 mph to travel through time. "It's very obviously to say that a car cannot be moving at speed on a stage," Vanstone says. "So what do you do? You move everything around it."

Video helped make that happen. Layers of perspective were used in Ross' creations to, as he details, "create the perspective that the mid-ground — which is effectively Marty in the car — is moving by having a foreground and a background behind it."

Lighting and sound only added to the magic, with the scene taking place during a storm. "Lighting provides lots of extra help in terms of little flashes on the car," says Vanstone, with Owen noting that "a huge amount of sound effects" were added from "thunder, lightning, rain, screeches of tires [and] car noise."

<p>Universal Studios</p> Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox in 'Back to the Future'

Universal Studios

Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox in 'Back to the Future'

Related: 'Back to the Future' Cast: Where Are They Now?

There's one thing they won't spill though: where the car actually goes when it vanishes on stage. “The magic for me is people not quite knowing how we do it,” says Hatley. 

Ultimately, the team is happy with what they’ve accomplished — as are audiences, who have been cheering for the sequence eight shows a week since Back to the Future first made its way to the stage.

"When you can hear them kind of gasp ... That is really rewarding," says Ross. "If you can convince the fans, you can convince anyone."

"You can’t actually work miracles, but what you can do is make the audience believe in miracles,” adds Vanstone.

“We pulled it off!” shares Rando.

Related: 'Back to the Future: The Musical' Star Casey Likes Says Michael J. Fox Quoted Movie to Him (Exclusive)

Back to the Future: The Musical comes from a creative team tied to the original movie, including director and co-writer Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, who co-created and co-wrote the film trilogy and also wrote the musical's book. Alan Silvestri, who composed the movie's score, collaborates on the stage show's music and lyrics with Grammy winner Glen Ballard.

The show — which follows the plot of the movie — includes the film's iconic theme as well as "The Power of Love" and "Back in Time," two Huey Lewis tunes from the original soundtrack.

First crafted for the London stage, where it was named best new musical at the 2022 Olivier Awards, Back to the Future: The Musical opened on Broadway on Aug 2, 2023 to positive reviews. It's one of the 15 new musicals eligible for a nomination for the coveted best musical prize at the 2024 Tony Awards.

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Casey Likes and Roger Bart lead the show as Marty and Doc, respectively. Others in the principle cast include Hugh Coles as George McFly, Liana Hunt as Lorraine Baines, Jelani Remy as Goldie Wilson/Marvin Berry, and Nathaniel Hackmann as Biff Tannen. Ensemble stars Ense Mikaela Secada and Merritt David Janes play Jennifer Parker and Principal Strickland, respectively.

The rest of the ensemble is made up of Aaron Alcaraz, Brittany Bohn, Will Branner, Victoria Byrd, Brendon Chan, Kevin Curtis, Nick Drake, Samuel Gerber, Berklea Going, Marc Heitzman, Kimberly Immanuel, Joshua Kenneth Allen Johnson, Hannah Kevitt, Katie LaDuca, JJ Niemann, Jessie Peltier, Becca Petersen, Jonalyn Saxer, Blakely Slaybaugh, Gabi Stapula and Darius Wright.

Tickets for Back to the Future: The Musical are on sale now.

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