Casey Likes fully expected to be performing on Broadway this year, but the plan was for him to be riding shotgun with Stillwater instead of sitting behind the wheel of a DeLorean. He’d appeared as teen rock journalist William Miller in an acclaimed run of “Almost Famous: The Musical” at The Old Globe in San Diego and reprised the role when the show transferred in 2022 to Broadway. But New York critics were harsher, and “Almost Famous” struggled to draw crowds.
“It was a shock to our system because it did so well on the West Coast,” says Likes during a recent interview in a Hell’s Kitchen burger joint. “When I got the call that we were closing last winter, it just felt so sudden. But it was an important lesson for me. This is a business, and this is a job.”
Fortunately, the 21-year-old Likes didn’t have to wait long before landing his next gig. The day after “Almost Famous” announced it was ending, the producers of “Back to the Future: The Musical” reached out to Likes to see if he’d read for Marty McFly. He hesitated. “Almost Famous” had been physically draining, leaving him with health problems that he declines to enumerate in greater detail. But the prospect of rocking out to “The Power of Love” and skateboarding across the stage of the Winter Garden eight shows a week proved irresistible.
Having earned the part, he’s approaching his sophomore production differently — working with a trainer, watching what he eats and going to therapy. It’s critical, because Likes is onstage for almost the entirety of the two-hour and 40-minute show.
“You have to be a mathematician,” says Likes. “Not only do I have to deliver a good performance every night, but I have to calculate every move, every tear that I shed, every note that I hit, so I have enough left to make it to the end of the week.”
Likes will need to master that equation because “Back to the Future: The Musical” is settling in for a long run, routinely topping the $1 million mark in weekly ticket sales. The show has allowed him to rub elbows with his heroes. The Aug. 3 opening night had an audience that included the film’s producer, Steven Spielberg; director Robert Zemeckis; and Michael J. Fox.
Shortly before the curtain came up, Likes received word that he had a chance to meet Fox. As they posed for pictures, Likes asked him for advice, one Marty to another.
“Kick ass,” Fox told him. “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.”
Then Likes was whisked backstage to make his big entrance, still reeling from the encounter.
“I opened the door and started the show,” he remembers. “And thank God it was the first night and people were cheering for a long time, because I was still processing what had happened. I could barely remember my lines.”
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