One of the most iconic parts of Back to the Future–the legendary film about time travel–features the character Marvin Berry, who is based on the real-life crooner of the 1950s, performing at a high school dance. Harry Waters, Jr. played the iconic role in the 1985 film that's still enthralling viewers today. Now stage actor Jelani Remy brings Marvin back to life in Back to the Future The Musical, the hit stage production based on the movie. Remy also plays Mayor Goldie Wilson III, originally portrayed in the movie by Donald Fullilove.
We talked with Remy, who has some experience going back in time (he played Eddie Kendricks in Ain’t Too Proud, the Life and Times of the Temptations on Broadway), about his earliest memories of the film, taking on dual stage roles on and what the OGs of Back to the Future think about his performance!
EBONY: You've taken on not one, but two memorable characters from the movie!
Jelani Remy: I sure have and I have to tell you I am having a great time on stage with both of these roles. The casting always assigned both roles to one actor. I remember having to audition for both roles and build different characters' voices and physicalities for each!
Back to the Future, the movie featured two significant Black characters, which was huge in the eighties. How does it feel to continue a legacy of portraying great Black characters from screen to stage?
To perform the iconic Marvin Berry and the Starlighters’ song “Earth Angel” and some of the film’s immortalized lines, as well as to translate the characters to Broadway and have the same impact these outstanding characters in the film had on audiences, it’s an honor.
What do Donald Fullilove and Harry Waters Jr. think about you embodying these roles?
I will never forget, after opening night, these two gentlemen were at the bottom of the staircase at The Winter Garden Theatre waiting for me. They looked me in the eyes and said, “You are us!” They gave me a big hug and declared, “Damn boy, you are good!” We laughed in celebration, it was the best moment! To portray their essence and magic is a tall order and to have their blessing made this a huge success in my heart.
What's your favorite moment in the show?
One of my favorite moments is my song in act one “You Gotta Start Somewhere” sung by a young Goldie Wilson. It’s an uplifting, high-energy number that connects me to the audience in a way that reminds me why I love live theater so much.
Did you know the film before you joined the production? You weren't even born when it came out!
You’re right! But I am the youngest of five so I watched Back to the Future many times with my siblings and with friends as a must-see.
What struck you the most about the film?
I remember how captivated I was by Christopher Lloyd as Doc. I thought and still think his character is hilarious and brilliant.
Why should people come to see Back to the Future The Musical?
This show is special. It’s nostalgic yet showcases the future of theater entertainment. It’s for the whole family to enjoy and talk about afterward. To sit back and feel the same joy I get doing the show.
Any advice for young Black boys who want to get into theater?
If you stay ready you never have to get ready! I hope seeing me and my incredibly talented and dedicated cast members of color up on that stage gives you the push and drive to get involved and train to be the next generation of performing artists. You can do it!
Back to the Future The Musical is playing at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York.