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Glory Ride at Charing Cross Theatre

It’s quite nice, admittedly, to return to a show I saw last year whilst it was still a work-in-progress and see it in the context of a full production. I recall saying at the time that the production team needs to decide as to whether to go with full-bodied Italian accents or – well, not. They went for the accents, though not everyone on stage does theirs wholly convincingly, and in the end, they’d have been better off not bothering. They are not literally speaking in Italian, but the audience is discerning enough to know that what they are hearing is a translation. In hindsight, I was wrong to even suggest it in the first place: imagine if the London company of Les Misérables attempted French accents whilst singing in English. It would work, perhaps, if the Thenardiers did it for comic effect, but here, in a tale as earnest as this one, it’s a source of presumably unintended humour.

Glory Ride - Niall Sheehy as Cardinal Elia Dalla Costa - Photographer Marc Brenner.
Glory Ride – Niall Sheehy as Cardinal Elia Dalla Costa – Photographer Marc Brenner.

There’s a rush to get through the formative years of Gino Bartali’s (1914-2000) (Josh St. Clair) life, to the point where, at face value, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the family moved on far too quickly from the sudden death of Bartali’s younger brother Giulio (a role shared between three child actors, Oscar Goddard, Daniel Lee, and Parker Newman) in a road traffic collision. Mario Carita (Fed Zanni) starts off as Bartali’s best friend: Bartali’s efforts to save Jewish children from fascist Italy during the Second World War put him at odds with Carita, who became a fascist soldier and achieved the rank of major. Then there are Bartali’s parents, Torello (Steve Watts) and Rosetta (Suzanna Paisio), who are naturally wary of seeing their remaining son putting himself in the path of danger.

All this sets the scene for dramatic tension, heightened all the more when Bartali begins dating Adriana Bani (Ami Di Bartolomeo), though I wonder if the show has made one omission too many by not giving Bani the same opportunity afforded to Carita – to explain directly what, if any, feelings and emotions still linger for the other party in what effectively becomes a love triangle. Neither is there quite enough time given to Bartali and Bani’s blossoming relationship, such that a line in the epilogue about them being married for sixty years is frankly a bit of a surprise.

Particularly in the first half, the music and lyrics are delivered in a manner that mirrors not only the youthful vigour of Bartali but also the essence of competitive cycling. But because the narrative itself slows from speeding through the first twenty-four years of his life in less than fifteen minutes to giving detailed wartime accounts, the show has the overall feel of a show that started strong but then couldn’t maintain its high-octane pace.

The final scene turns Bartali into an Italian version of Sir Nicholas Winton, with numerous testimonials from people owing their survival to him. He preferred, apparently, to speak about his cycling achievements rather than his active role in the anti-fascist resistance movement. “Some medals are not pinned to your heart, they are pinned to your soul,” Bartali closes the show by saying, and it’s understandable, objectively speaking, why he would want to downplay the adoration poured out on him. None of what transpired would have happened without the skill of Giorgio ‘Nico’ Nissim (Daniel Robinson) or the tenacity of Cardinal Elia Dalla Costa (Niall Sheehy), and there were almost certainly many others involved too.

There are some lovely harmonies to enjoy, for instance in ‘Green Eye Shades’, an unlikely candidate for a showstopper on paper, as it’s about a meeting of a church finance committee (included in the show within reason because, without giving too much away, the resistance needed money to carry out its plans). Elsewhere, portrayals of the sheer brutality meted out by forces loyal to Mussolini stops the show from being overly sentimental, as well as underlining quite how dangerous the resistance’s activities were. Dubious accents aside, the production has a very strong cast. Some tweaking to the show itself is still required, but it is, in the end, a story worth telling and a musical worth seeing.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

GLORY RIDE transports the audience to the golden hills of Tuscany during the darkest days of the Second World War, with a story combining heist, history, humour, and humanity and a soaring new score.

Gino Bartali, one of the most beloved of Italian athletes of all time, had a secret life. A Tour de France winner, in the 1940s he was considered the second most famous man in Italy – after Mussolini. His cycling achievements on the Alps and Pyrenees were legendary, but until recently, few knew that he risked his life by saving hundreds of people from fascism during World War II.

With his cycling career as a cover, Bartali cycled thousands of miles between cities across Italy. Hidden in the frame of his bike were falsified identity cards and other secret documents to help victims cross borders to safety. His bravery rescued hundreds of persecuted Jews and other refugees, many of whom were children. In 2013, Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, recognised Gino Bartali with the honour of Righteous Among the Nations.

Bartali was a local hero as well as a national figurehead, renowned in his community for his indefatigable commitment to helping others. His story has a powerful message about bravery, loyalty and doing the right thing regardless of the consequences.

Victoria Buchholz encountered the story of Gino Bartali while travelling in Tuscany and set out to put it to music as GLORY RIDE, working with her father, Todd, a best-selling author, inventor and senior White House economic adviser.

GLORY RIDE was developed through workshops in New York and Los Angeles featuring top Broadway talent, with sold-out staged concerts last year at The Other Palace Theatre in London.

Josh St. Clair, Amy Di Bartolomeo, Niall Sheehy, Fed Zanni, Daniel Robinson, Ruairidh McDonald, Ryan Bennett, Peter Watts, James Coyne, Loris Scarpa, Susianna Paisio, Steve Watts, Alice SpigariolNial Sheekhy,

Creative team includes:
Director Kelly Devine
Associate Director Ricky J Hines
Musical Director Dave Rose
Set, Costume & Video Designer PJ McEvoy
Casting Director Harry Blumenau, CDG
General Management Smart Entertainment
Italian Cultural Adviser Federico Bellone
Producers Glory Ride 2023 Ltd

Glory Ride
The world premiere of a major new musical
Book, Music & Lyrics by Victoria Buchholz & Todd Buchholz
Directed by Kelly Devine

Twitter: @GloryRideShow
Instagram @GloryRideShow

Charing Cross Theatre
22 April to 29 July, 2023

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