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‘Back to the Future’ brings Rogers back to Cleveland

Ethan Rogers’ first national tour was “Les Miserables,” where he was part of the ensemble and understudy for the role of Jean Valjean, one of the most heroic characters in musical theater.

For his latest touring role, he’s playing someone a bit less heroic –high school bully Biff Tannen in the musical adaptation of “Back to the Future.”

“I always say I’m much nicer in person,” Rogers said last month during a phone interview from New York, where the tour still was in rehearsals.

Cleveland is only the second stop for the tour, and it opens Tuesday at Playhouse Square’s KeyBank State Theatre for a four-week run.

Rogers is a Texas native, but the tour still is a homecoming for him — he graduated from Baldwin Wallace University, where he studied musical theater.

He wanted to be an actor for as long as he could remember.

“Growing up I thought everyone wanted to be an actor, that’s just what you did,” he said. “In high school, I started to take that path more seriously — what do I need to do to prepare myself for this industry? I did research on the best programs in the country and discovered Baldwin Wallace and what its program is like and the grit and preparation those people leave with. It was just a no-brainer decision to make.”

His training there prepared him for the wide range of roles he’s played since graduation. In his junior year at BW, he appeared in both Anton Chekov’s “Uncle Vanya” and the musical “Kinky Boots.”

He also spent plenty of time in the audience for productions at Playhouse Square as a student.

“I saw so many shows there, I don’t know if I can pick a favorite,” Rogers said. “Playhouse Square is such an iconic theater district. Performing at the same theater where I saw so many wonderful productions is such a full circle moment for me.”

Rogers was on tour in “Les Miz” when he was asked to audition for “Back to the Future.” That tour of “Les Miz” was remounted after stopping due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so he had some rehearsal time instead of stepping into a long-running tour, but he said mounting the first tour for “Back to the Future” still is a unique experience.

“Doing a show like ‘Les Miz’ that is so big, so historic, so beloved, a lot of it is fitting into this beast,” Rogers said. “This is so different. … We’re building this from the ground up. I’m happy to take hold of the reins from Nathanial Hackmann, who plays Biff on Broadway and is fantastic, and excited to put my own spin on it.”

Like the movie it’s based on, “Back to the Future” tells the story of a 1980s teen, Marty McFly, who travels back to the 1950s with the help of a time-traveling DeLorean created by eccentric inventor Doc Brown. There, he meets his parents when they were his age, but his presence causes a disruption that could keep his future parents from getting together, which would erase Marty’s existence in the ’80s.

It features some of the songs from the movie as well as new tunes by Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard and a book by Bob Gale, one of the film’s screenwriters.

“Biff is a funny character, funny and stupid,” Rogers said. “And he’s bad. He’s the villain of the show. That presents its own challenges, but the way our show works, you love to laugh at Biff.

“I think audiences will really love it. If you’re familiar with the story, you’re in for all the nostalgic fun in a fresh, fun, new medium. If you’re not familiar with the film, we take you on a ride filled with full-blown theater magic — every performance is amazing, amazing music, amazing dancing, lots of laughs and fun for the whole family.”

If you go …

WHAT: “Back to the Future: The Musical”

WHEN: Tuesday through July 11. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: KeyBank State Theatre, Playhouse Square, 1515 Euclid Ave., Cleveland

HOW MUCH: Tickets range from $39 to $129 and are available online at playhousesquare.org and by calling 216-241-6000.

Ethan Rogers, a Baldwin Wallace University graduate, plays Biff in the North American tour of the musical “Back to the Future.”

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