The musical based on the true story of Gino Bartali has plenty to recommend it, but still feels in need of tweaks to give it more depth.
Following concert performances at The Other Palace last year, Glory Ride cycles its way to the Charing Cross Theatre to show how far it has come since then and feels a lot darker and more compelling in many ways this time around.
Gino Bartali was a Tour De France winner, but this musical follows his extraordinary story and the work that he did through the war in terms of first smuggling out forged documents to the Swiss border to help refugee children to escape Italy with the help of his accountant Giorgio Nicoa and Cadinal Costa, very much under control of the Black Shirts who in turn of course answered to Mussolini. But then Bartali went one step further – rescuing the children (many of whom were of course of Jewish heritage) and smuggling them out of Italy. It is an extraordinary story that deserves to be heard and this production directed and choreographed by Kelly Devine is a really moving portrayal of it – despite some aspects of it feeling slightly rushed through.
Thanks to PJ McEvoy’s wonderfully authentic looking set design, London audiences are swept back into 1930’s Italy, with its town square setting that is intimate and makes it clear what a close-knit community it is. Rob Halliday’s lighting design meanwhile effectively switches between the sunny climate of Italy as a whole then to the darkness of war with great flair an ease – it powerfully helps set the tone for the story, particularly through chilling moments in which character’s lives are on the edge.
Written by Victoria Buchholz and Todd Buchholz, the story beautifully builds up in tension, particularly as Batali begins to take more risks and goes out of his way to protect children. However, it feels that in contrast to the concert performances at The Other Palace it has lost a little something as well: Batali’s relationship with Adriana feels less developed and it would have been lovely to see more engagement between Bartali and his parents to add a bit more of a personal emotional core to the story. Early moments in which we learn of the loss of his bother feels rushed through.
But, on the other side of this it does highlight the different ways in which people were pulled apart to different sides of the conflict – captured particularly through Gino’s friendship with Mario who ends up joining the Blackshirts and rising through the ranks leading him to doing terrible deeds, with him arguing that he is doing it to protect Italy. Mario’s character arc is interesting to watch unfold – he is a coward and knows what he is doing is wrong but can’t retreat from the path he goes down, leading to further tragedy. It adds an interesting aspect to the way in which people were divided by beliefs as well as the destruction of war. There is a real rawness as the story unfolds that makes it compelling to watch.
Musically, there are some really lovely numbers that really capture the story well. In particular, I loved Gino and Adriana’s duet ‘I Never Learned to Say Goodbye’ in which the connect over their grief over lost loved ones, while ‘800 Souls’ brings home just how many lives depended on Gino, Nico and the Cardinal’s scheme to work. ‘Father’s and Sons’ is another lovely duet that works well in showing the stage of Gino and his father Torello’s relationship is at in the second act.
The cast all work well together in bringing this story to life. Josh St.Clair as Gino captures the character’s inner turmoil well and is a strong and charismatic performer, well matched by Daniel Robinson as Nico. Robinson has natural comic timing and is a delightful presence – to watch the way in which he and St.Clair interact with each other is a real joy. Elsewhere, Amy Di Bartolomeo as Adriana offers a fully rounded performance – filled with strength and emotional power as captured through her rendition of ‘Promises’.
With a few tweaks to the book (which could be extended further to really ensue that the full story is told), Glory Ride is an enjoyable and fascinating musical about a story that deserves to be acknowledged more.
By Emma Clarendon