Glory Ride – Charing Cross Theatre, London

Reviewer: Adam Stevenson

Book: Victoria and Todd Buchholz

Music and Lyrics: Victoria Buchholz

Director: Kelly Devine

Glory Ride is a new musical which tells the fascinating story of Gino Bartali, a two-time Tour de France winner who used his practice sessions as cover to courier documents for the resistance movement against Mussolini’s Fascists. As well as holding record titles in cycling, he was also declared Righteous Among Nations by Yad Vashem.

The audience is introduced to Bartali (Josh St Clair) as a young and impoverished cyclist who must make the choice between a steady job with his father or a chance for glory on the road. As his fame increases, he finds his image being used by the blackshirts for propaganda purposes, something he uses to hide his increasing sympathies for the partisans. In the end he must risk his burgeoning love for Adriana (Amy di Bartolomeo), his relationship with his parents and even his life.

The set, consisting of a large street scene, with a pretty (if slightly cartoony) background of Florence rather restricts the space on stage, which leads to adequate but slightly perfunctory blocking and choreography. There’s a lot of stationary cycling for Bartali, a lot of kneeling for Cardinal Ella Della Costa (Niall Sheehy) and a lot of standing menacingly for Mussolini’s goons. The production is beautifully lit, however, with Rob Halliday portraying lingering sunsets, foggy nights and warm, sunny afternoons.

This does mean that Glory Ride depends on its story and music. Victoria Buchholz provides a number of stirring and passionate songs, full of emotion. Di Bartolomeo gets a brace of great numbers; Nothing Feels Beautiful Anymore dwells on feelings of loss whilst Promises is a brilliantly angry song about the times she’s been let down – it’s one of those songs that has the potential to live outside of the musical.

Sheehy’s Cardinal has 800 Souls, a song about his spiritual responsibilities, which starts contemplative but swells into a chorus of soaring harmony. He also sings Ad Astra, a song about reaching for the stars which also builds to a crescendo. Even minor characters get moments to shine, like A Minor Thing, War, sung by Ruairidh McDonald’s Felix, a blackshirt who’d rather be playing his fiddle.

The opening number, It Only Takes One Hero, introduces Florence, runs through a list of classical and Biblical heroes and introduces Gino. This being the introduction, it starts calmly but a tragic accident occurring halfway through the song means the emotion level ramps up to ten. There it stays for the remainder of the two-hour musical. The songs themselves are memorable, but however they start, they all end with the singers at peak emotion. Even the one comic song, Green Eye Shades, ends with Bartali bathed in heavenly light and a trio of accountant-priests almost in tears. As a result, Glory Ride does become a bit of a slog, with every ounce of energy expanded on pedalling up the mountain, and no giddy free-wheeling down.

The book by Victoria Buchholz and her father, Todd, does an admirable job shaping the history into an understandable narrative. Particular attention is paid to Mario Carita (Fed Zanni) , presented as a friend of Bartali’s, who joined the army to seek glory and now finds himself in charge of the city. He sees himself as a bulwark between the people of Florence and the Nazis, committing only enough murder to keep the it out of German oversight. The real Carita was a stranger to Bartali and responsible for a number of atrocities before killed in a firefight between American troops.

There’s also a very interesting character in Nico (Daniel Robinson), a geeky banker, who mostly serves as comic relief but had the opportunity to explain his quiet heroism in They Call Me Silent. In fact, it was Nico who methodically forged documents and devised the structures and systems which allowed the network to run.

Bartali himself comes across as something of a monomaniac, all of his lyrics feature references to bicycles, races and roads. The tagline of Glory Ride comes from something the real Bartali said; “Certain medals hang on the soul, not on the jacket.” St Clair makes this the key to his portrayal, a man who does the right thing because it is right.

At a time when Neo-Nazis openly gather and this country’s government are accused of fascistic speech, Glory Ride is a timely story of resistance delivered with gusto and emotion; it is also a little exhausting.

Runs until 29 July 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Get in the saddle, but prepare to pedal hard

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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