This new musical brings an incredible true story to life – but does need some work musically to make it fully rounded.
The joy that come from watching a brand new piece of theatre emerging is the way in which it brings to life a part of history or highlight a story that is not very well known and in Glory Ride it is the story slightly more than the music that makes a strong impact on the audience.
Set in Florence, Glory Ride follows the true story of Gino Bartali, a Tour-De-France winning cyclist who finds himself helping hundreds of Jewish children escaping fascist Italy during the Second World War by cycling around Italy and carrying out potentially dangerous drop offs in order to save lives. Written by father and daughter duo Todd Buchholz and Victoria Buchholz, there is no doubting that this is a compelling story that keeps the audience thoroughly engaged from start to finish and feels sufficiently developed to warrant this concert performance.
There is a lovely build up of tension and conflict – not only as the war looms over everybody’s heads – but also the way in which it shows the lives of Gino and his friend and mentor Mario separate as the rise of fascism begins to take hold, while hope and romance also flourishes to add a little lightness to the story. As a book it has been extremely well written, particularly as the show builds up to its climax. There is real emotion and shock to be found in the more tragic moments in the show that is never underplayed – but could have been brought out further musically.
That is not to say that the songs and music are particularly weak (there are in fact a few stand out songs that have a lovely catchiness and heartfelt nature to them), but it feels as though they need to be integrated into the show better to reflect the era and location better. But this can be easily remedied as can the pacing of the show, which can feel slightly all over the place, lingering over the less important aspects and then seemingly rushing through the more important scenes to really delve deeper into the characters and the situation that they find themselves in.
Being a concert performance, there wasn’t much staging to talk of, but director Shaun Kerrison gives some subtle hints of where the musical could head if given a full production – with use of projections and some effective choreography. Even with this performance, he brings out the story wonderfully vividly to give a real flavour of what the musical could be given an opportunity. There is also great subtlety in the costumes each cast member wear – seeing Gino change into a black top (as cover and very reluctantly) to ‘represent’ the black shirts somehow manages to enhance the realisation of the danger he is putting himself into.
The cast themselves show wonderful depth of understanding (again thanks to the strength of the book), delivering many fabulous performances. At the centre of it all, James Darch as Gino is comfortably at ease in showcasing the character’s sense of grief, pressure at the job he has got to do, determination and ambition – a real charismatic performance. Elsewhere, Matt Blaker is wonderfully funny as the hapless accountant Nico who is helping to forge passports for the children – the scene in which he attempts to learn how to address the pope properly is a real highlight. Neil McDermott is suitably chilling in his portrayal of Mario – highlighted in one particular moment towards the end that did have me flinching.
This is a strong beginning for the musical and with a few tweaks here and there could be a success on a larger stage.
By Emma Clarendon
Glory Ride is booking at the Other Palace until the 16th November.