As a big fan of musicals, there’s a real mix of excitement and apprehension when heading to a new show. Will it become a new favourite, making its way onto my regular rotation of musical soundtracks? Will I be booking repeat visits in the future? Or will it disappoint? I headed to The Other Palace to find out how Glory Ride would work out.
The production had its world premiere as a staged concert on Monday 14 November. It’s an honour to be at a premiere, and the sense of anticipation in the room was palpable. A mix of critics, supporters and musical lovers packed into the impressively racked seating of the venue: there’s no bad seat in this wonderful theatre.
The musical is based on the true story of a hero from the Second World War, Gino Bartali, who won the Tour de France in 1938 and 1948. Yet his greatest achievement was kept a secret throughout his life. This musical tells the story of how he defied the fascists, saving hundreds of children’s lives with the help of his business manager and the Cardinal of Tuscany.
The story itself is truly fascinating, and it’s the type of show that leaves you wanting to find out more. However, the pacing within the musical does feel like it needs a bit more work – a tragedy early on misses an emotional punch. The same could be said of Gino’s romantic relationship with Adriana. It’s hard to form an emotional connection; plot points feel glossed over as the show tries to fit in all the details of the story. Despite this, the ending still has emotional power, as you realise the scale of Gino’s heroism.
The same could be said of the music and lyrics in Glory Ride. There are some fantastic moments, and as the show reaches its conclusion, the music becomes a lot stronger. However, the first half does drag a little, with the songs not doing enough to push the plot along. There are some memorable tunes – one was circling my head as I waited for the train home – yet in the context of the competition from other productions, the music failed to stand out.
There is not much staging to speak of, it being a concert performance, but there are glimmers of potential that hint at what this show could become where it developed into a full production. In particular, the way they first showcase Gino as a cyclist winning races and achieving fame and glory as an athlete.
The cast are mostly spectacular, as you’d expect from their West End credentials. James Darch stands out as Gino, playing the role with charm and ease, and he’s a pleasure to watch, despite his very English accent. Then Adrianna Bertola is wholly believable as his little brother Giulio. The role of Gino’s accountant is played wonderfully by Matt Blaker, winning the audience over immediately. The more sinister roles of the Blackshirts are genuinely intimidating, with Neil McDermott being terrifying at times. Despite the quality cast, there are some questions about their accents, with a mix of characters with full Italian accents, whilst others sound like they’re narrating a 1940s Pathé newsreel.
This show has so much potential, and it will be interesting to see where it goes next. It’s easy to imagine it as a full production, giving a voice to this fascinating story that Gino himself never spoke of; he passed away in 2000 having never revealed his secret. It’s a tale that deserves to be told, and Glory Ride certainly has the potential to give it justice.
Books, music and lyrics by: Victoria Buchholz and Todd Buchholz
Directed by: Shaun Kerrison
Musical direction by: Greg Jarrett
Produced by: Dickson Cossar
Glory Ride plays at The Other Palace until 16 November. Further information and bookings can be found here.