Review: GLORY RIDE, Charing Cross Theatre

New musical portrays the life of Gino Bartali, who proved himself a hero of Italian cycling in the 30s and 40s and of the Italian Resistance in wartime

By: Apr. 29, 2023
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Review: GLORY RIDE, Charing Cross Theatre

Review: GLORY RIDE, Charing Cross Theatre When he died in 2000, Italy grieved for one of its most beloved sporting heroes, the cyclist who had won his home race, the Giro d'Italia three times and the biggest of them all, the Tour de France twice, both either side of World War II. But stories soon emerged of a double life, one that the religious and unassuming native of Tuscany had kept quiet for so long. During the war, Gino Bartali had repeatedly risked his life to save Jews from the Nazis.

That extraordinary tale forms the backbone of the new musical, Glory Ride, which recounts a life of quiet bravery and public acclaim, each feeding off the other. Were not Bartali courageous, his resolve stiffened by deeply held religious belief and the support of the Florentine church, he would not have been able to use his celebrity to broker a deal that allowed him free movement to train and a nod-and-a-wink from starstruck checkpoint guards unwilling to stand in the way of a genuine national hero. It was a perfect storm of opportunity, but it took real guts to pull it off. You have to admit, that's more promising material for a show than the life of Silvio Berlusconi, whose musical has just completed a long uphill climb south of the river.

PJ McEvoy creates a lovely look for the show, capturing a little of the vibe recently evoked in Guillermo Del Toro's Oscar-winning movie, Pinocchio (though it's worth mentioning that every racing cyclist shaves their legs, so step to it!) Kelly Devine keeps things busy on stage, the musical theatre trap of having two people simply singing avoided, the bustle of life during wartime, the darting in and out of the shadows, always in play.

Victoria and Todd Buchholz share the credit for the book which always has its heart in the right place. It's good on portraying life in an occupied country (always something that takes a bit of explanation in Anglo-American theatre) and is clear about the stakes in play, though the ruthlessness of Mussolini's apparatchiks is, perhaps, shown a little too graphically in a generally feelgood show.

We never really get to the crux of the relationships that bind the emotional centre of the production together. Josh St Clair as Bartali and Amy Di Bartolomeo as his girlfriend, Adriana, look handsome and sing well, but their courtship seems perfunctory with no sense that it will lead to 60 years of marriage. Fred Zanni, as Adriana's childhood sweetheart who joins the Blackshirts to defend Italians otherwise defenceless before the Nazis, can't do much with an underwritten part that never gets to grips with his two reasons to feel antipathy towards his other childhood friend and now hero, rival and enemy Bartali. The love triangle melts away and the different responses of the two men to war is resolved too glibly.

Daniel Robinson has a bit of fun with Bartali's manager and expert document forger, Giorgio, especially winkling out some much needed funds from the banker-cardinals ("Green Eye Shades") - who would have had that quartet earmarked for the comic relief? Ruairidh McDonald is very good in portraying the broken dreams of ordinary locals, just kids really, not quite under existential threat, but victims too.

Dave Rose's band plays the score with gusto, perhaps a little over-amplified for the front seats, but this is a tricky space to get that balance right and there are plenty of fine songs, the ballad, "I Never Learned To Say Goodbye" and the defiant "800 Souls" the standouts with the rousing "Glory", but the show could do with a full-blown 11 o'clock number to anchor its second half.

With cycling a sport that solemnly venerates its heroes, followed by a mass audience competitively and recreationally in the UK and with this year's edition of The Giro starting next week, to say nothing of politics providing ever starker choices of the kind that Bartali faced - how to do good in an imperfect world - it's timely that this production hits the London stage now.

Whether its sketchy romantic triangle and underwritten support characters will be enough to gather a peloton of punters at the box office remains to be seen, but it's too easy to damn new musicals with faint praise. This one certainly deserves its day in front of the race and not just an anonymous position riding along in the gruppeto.

Glory Ride at Charing Cross Theatre until 29 July

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner


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