Review by Daz Gale
A brand new musical rides into London as Glory Ride chooses Charing Cross Theatre for its world premiere, following workshop performances in America and a staged concert at The Other Palace last year. Reviews for the concert noted the potential the show had. Now fully staged for the first time, would it be able to live up to its hopeful glory?
Glory Ride tells the true story of Italian athlete Gino Bartali. Considered the second most famous man in Italy in the 1940 after Mussolini, he won the Tour de France and was a legendary figure for his cycling ability. However, he led a secret life saving hundreds of people from fascism during World War II. This show tells his remarkable story which most people have only recently become aware of.
Written by Victoria Buchholz and Todd Buchholz, Glory Ride is a show full of high moments which unfortunately are undone due to others that are wildly inconsistent. Tonally, the story jolts back and forth with moments of humour peppered alongside a sombre story. Where this approach is usually admirable and allows a lot more depth and conflicting emotions, it never quite lands in this one disappointingly, leaving me struggling to connect and the whole thing coming across as rather cold.
There are some truly stunning moments to be found throughout - Without spoiling too much, the ending of the show is fairly powerful as the cast state Ginos legacy throughout the years and what he did for them and their family. This only adds to the frustration that more of the show didn’t quite reach this level. The biggest problem is the book in itself which seems under-developed and confusing characters who never quite manage to be anything more than in Ginos shadow throughout the show.
The music and lyrics by Victoria Buchholz are also a mixed bag, Overall, the whole thing sounds glorious musically with some truly beautiful orchestrations and memorable musical numbers throughout. However, it is let down by some incredibly underwhelming lyrics – many of which feel like they have been written using a rhyming dictionary, leading to some very jarring rhymes which didn’t do justice to the often fantastic music. Overall, the standard of the songs proved uneven with ‘800 Souls’ making you sit up and take notice and ‘Promises’ resulting in some sensational vocals. However, these are joined by a deeply misjudged ‘Fathers and Sons’ and ‘Green Eye Shades’ which seemed out of place in the show and wasn’t a high point by any stretch.
The best thing about Glory Ride is undoubtedly its incredible cast. Josh St Clair leads the race as Gino Bartali, delivering a truly phenomenal performance. Channelling the emotional heart of his character, he not only embodies the role in the best possible way, he also showcases a truly remarkable singing voice which immediately elevates the quality of the songs.
Fed Zanni is a highlight as Major Mario Canta while Daniel Robinson gets a comic highlight as the sweet natured Giorgio Nico -a role that is refreshingly more fleshed out than most and leading to a beautiful payoff when it comes to the characters history. While the role of Cardinal Elia Dalla Costa feels slightly at odds with the rest of the material and his character not managing to ease in to the narrative as effortlessly as you would hope, the performance is still impressive thanks to a marvellous turn from Niall Sheehy.
An undoubted standout among the terrific cast is Amy Di Bartolomeo as Adriana Bani. To say her singing voice is out of this world would be a disservice to the universe – she truly is an exceptional talent and gets to show off her emotional range and brilliant vocals throughout Glory Ride, with the aforementioned musical number ‘Promises’ a spine-tingling highlight. Again, the character suffers from feeling like an afterthought. The scenes she shares with Josh St Clair’s Gino make the stage come alive and left me longing for more – which sadly never materialised.
Charing Cross Theatre has had the majority of its productions played with an audience on either side throughout the past couple of years. It reverts back to a more conventional proscenium style for Glory Ride with PJ McEvoy’s set design beautifully resembling 1940s Tuscany. An inspired touch is the use of archive footage in video design, though the lighting at times lets it down somewhat, never quite illuminating the way stellar lighting design should. Kelly Devines direction is admirable, making use of the moving parts and ensuring the action plays out to its full potential, though the use of cast members in the audience didn’t work for me personally on this occasion.
Glory Ride was a show I have been excited about for a while. As a champion of new musicals, I always love seeing them unfold with the hope of falling in love with a potential new favourite. With this one, there is plenty of potential to be found with some truly standout moments but these are let down by some lesser elements in the production. Ultimately, I found the whole thing to be incredibly frustrating as its stellar cast and selection of beautiful songs were let down somewhat due to this.
Glory Ride is definitely worth keeping an eye on though in its current form it isn’t quite where it needs to be yet. The book needs tightening up and the lyrics need a bit of an overhaul to make the whole thing come alive on stage in the way a story like this deserves to. At its heart, Glory Ride is a moving and beautiful story – so the fact it struggled to move me at all was disappointing for me personally. A worthy contender in the race to be the next big new musical. However, Glory Ride has some way to go if it wants to realise its full glory.
Glory Ride plays at Charing Cross Theatre until 29th July. Tickets from www.gloryridemusical.com
Photos by Marc Brenner