Glory Ride - Charing Cross Theatre
Tour de France winner turned hero
Charing Cross Theatre is fast becoming the home of new musicals, especially those concerning cyclists, having last year staged the joyous Ride and now opening this new musical from father and daughter team Victoria and Todd Buchholz. Though slightly grander in scale than its two-wheeled counterpart, the stabilisers have come off a tad quicker than they should have. With some strong source material and a talented cast, the hard work is rapidly undone through poor lyrics, missing character development and sidelined women.
Glory Ride shares the story of the Italian, multi-Tour de France winner, Gino Bartali who during the Second World War put his life at risk to help persecuted Jews by smuggling forged documents and passports in his bicycle and even hiding children in a trailer towed behind him, delivering them across the mountains to the Swiss border and safety. His celebrity status allowing him to travel without question whilst Mussolini’s fascist police closed cities and hunted the Jewish community to garner favour with the Nazis.
The production rapidly whisks us quickly through Bartali’s cycling career, from his early beginnings on a borrowed bicycle (its handlebars adorned with ribbons) to joining the national team and winning his first yellow jersey. The speed of the plot rarely relents, leaving minimal space for characters and relationships to develop and breathe. For example, Bartali’s romance with Adriana Bani struggles to make sense with much of their relationship occurring between scenes - though he does oddly win her over by having a slightly above-average knowledge of colours. Bani herself experiences next to no growth, her entire personality limited to the clutching of a sketchbook and being a love interest for the protagonist, despite Amy Di Bartolomeo’s best efforts and towering vocal performance.
Strength does arrive within many of the musical numbers, held together by rigorous musical direction from Dave Rose, ensuring that the live band deliver a rousing and balanced sound that accompanies the great vocals from both the leads and ensemble - Amy Di Bartolomeo delivers the knockout vocal performance with the song Promises but Ruairidh McDonald has a delightful turn as a black coat officer, singing about how he yearns to return to the warmth of music instead of the brutal war. Lyrics do pose a problem however and conflict with the powerful voices on stage. Such lyrics as, “the faster you go the more you can do,” and a song bizarrely titled, “Take the Wheel,” in a show all about cycling (to be fair handlebars would be more challenging rhyme), risk sabotaging the musical numbers entirely.
Basic mistakes continue throughout the production. The lighting design fails to light actors' faces during pivotal moments and though the set design from PJ McEvoy is impressive, it is underutilised and somewhat limiting. There are directional choices that stick out as odd too, repeated entrances through the audience feel unnecessary and distracting, particularly when the previous scene is still ongoing.
Some performances defy the trend with Daniel Robinson able to instil humour and fun into the proceedings as Giorgio Nico, Gino’s business manager and co-conspirator and Fed Zanni’s Mario, nicely switching from charming best friend to dangerous high-ranking official. Joshua St. Clair does a fine job as Gino but the script and direction do him little favour in making more of the character.
The weight of the events we witness only seems to hit home at the conclusion of the production when the cast speaks directly of Gino and his accomplices’ achievements and it left me questioning where the full scale of the drama, peril and elation had been for the majority of the piece. There are strong foundations to build upon here but more work needs to be done to effectively convey the importance of this story and I hope it can reach its potential going forwards.
Running until 29 July - Tickets
Photography - Marc Brenner