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Glory Ride at The Other Palace

Gino Bartali (1914-2000) (James Darch), or at least this production’s version of him, would be out of place in contemporary British politics – making a promise and then sticking to it. There were certain secrets which, having told Major Mario Carita (Neil McDermott) he wouldn’t tell anyone (else), he took to the grave with him. Glory Ride doesn’t itself reveal how the details came to light, instead listing various posthumous awards. Bartali, who won the Tour de France twice, had a side to him that was shielded, as the show’s narrative would have it, even from his own parents: in essence, he became part of the Italian resistance movement. It didn’t matter to him that recognition for his efforts in this regard wasn’t going to happen in his lifetime – there are certain medals, he says, that are worn on one’s soul.

Victoria Buchholz, Todd Buchholz - Glory Ride - Rehearsal Photos - Photo credit - Piers Foley.
Victoria Buchholz, Todd Buchholz – Glory Ride – Rehearsal Photos – Photo credit – Piers Foley.

Many are familiar with the key events in World War Two, and thankfully, the show isn’t a history lesson, choosing to focus on Bartali and his home city of Florence. Bartali, born to Torello (Mark Turnbull) and Rosetta (Pippa Winslow), was given an opportunity at a young age to become a professional cyclist, and somewhat predictably, his parents wanted him literally and metaphorically to slow down and consider whether, in the grand scheme of things, riding around on a bicycle trying to be faster than other people riding around on their bicycles was really a feasible way to make a living. Let’s just say this wouldn’t be the first time the protagonist in a musical goes against the older generation and later, the establishment, and follows his heart.

A workshop performance, the impressive cast largely reads from tablets and paper scripts, which occasionally lends itself to unintentionally mildly amusing moments, particularly when the strongest of human emotions is being expressed only for someone to look down to remind themselves of what’s next. Notably, the most poignant points in the show, as well as the scenes in which a lot of new information comes to light, are almost all in spoken word as opposed to being revealed through songs driving the narrative forward. It’s not exactly Jersey Boys in terms of a stand-and-deliver storyline – indeed, there aren’t very many direct addresses to the audience – but it does feel from time to time as though we’re waiting for a song to finish so the story can continue.

It wouldn’t matter so much if there were big song-and-dance numbers with extensive choreography to be wowed by, but such ‘loud’ numbers don’t go well with a plot in which, to borrow a phrase from a propaganda campaign by the UK Government during the Second World War, careless talk costs lives. Unusually for a stage production these days, the Church, at least at a local level, is commended for its work rather than lampooned, with the Archbishop of Florence, Cardinal Dalla Costa (1872-1961) (Ricardo Alfonso) continuing to help certain disadvantaged people despite an instruction from the Vatican to the contrary.

Not being familiar with Bartali before seeing this show, I was genuinely interested to see how the story would pan out, although given the happy ending so beloved in musical theatre and how neatly various threads come together, I’m not sure how invested I would be on second viewing. For a full production, a judgement call needs to be made about whether to go with Italian accents or otherwise allow the audience to assume the characters are speaking in Italian, and we are hearing a translation of what they said.

Felix (Marcus Harman), a corporal in the Voluntary Militia for National Security, or to use their colloquial name, always used in the show, the ‘Blackshirts’, had a backstory just as intriguing (at least to me) as his actions under Major Carita’s command. Harman’s performance was a stand-out amongst the supporting characters. James Darch, meanwhile, shines in the lead role, displaying a remarkable balance in the character between humility and confidence. It’s an inspiring story, worthy of a wider audience. While this musical still needs some tightening, it has a lot going for it, and I wish the show well as it continues to develop.

By Chris Omaweng

How did a Cyclist, an Accountant, and the Cardinal of Tuscany join forces to pull off one of the most remarkable rescue operations of the War? Glory Ride reveals the untold tale of an Italian Tour de France winner who uses his fame and his bicycle to save hundreds of children from Mussolini’s Fascists. The show takes place in Tuscany and features soaring, memorable songs, along with a witty book and comic relief.

Backed by members of the original producers of Jersey Boys, Glory Ride features some of the West End’s biggest stars and has developed through workshops in New York and Los Angeles featuring top Broadway talent.

Written by Victoria Buchholz and Todd Buchholz
Directed by Shaun Kerrison
Musical Direction from Greg Jarrett
Video Design by PJ McEvoy
Sound Design by Keegan Curran
Lighting Design and Production Management by Dickson Cossar


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