Fans of the Tour de France have a long wait until next summer before the next tournament takes place, but at London’s The Other Palace, the unbelievable story of an Italian Tour de France winner is being told in the UK Premiere of Glory Ride. Backed by the original producers of Jersey Boys this new musical has already been in development in the US, and now a limited run of three staged concerts on the main stage of The Other Palace leave us hoping for a full run in the near future.
Glory Ride follows the true-life story of Gino Bartali (James Darch), who gave up being a champion cyclist following a family tragedy. His celebrity status granted him some additional freedoms when fascism took hold in Mussolini’s Italy, and along with his accountant, Giorgio Nico (Matt Blaker) and the Cardinal (Ricardo Afonso) began smuggling forged documents out of Florence so that children who had escaped the Black Shirts could lead a new life.
Eventually, this audacious plan escalated until it wasn’t just passports but actual children that Bartali was ferrying to freedom. It is of course, an incredibly moving story, which comes to a climax in the final moments of the show when the extent of Bartali’s achievements are revealed.
This staged concert version of Glory Ride, directed by Shaun Kerrison, is presented with real flair. The costumes look authentic, and projections, that use Legnano adverts and posters help to set the scene, and occasionally fill in parts of the story in the absence of set and props, work well.
This is still a workshopping of the musical, and it does still need some tweaks, particularly with the book. The first fifteen minutes of the first act feel like a race in itself, with Bartali’s early life and career speeding by quicker than the yellow jersey wearer, only for things to slow down quite considerably towards the interval.
While this could be forgiven if it allowed extra time for the more exciting moments, instead there’s quite a lot of focus on individual characters. Sometimes that pays off, such as in the case of Felix, the Black Shirt who longs to go back to being a violinist, beautifully portrayed my Marcus Harman with a show stopping solo number.
There’s much focus too on Mario Carita (Neil McDermott), Bartali’s former race partner turned head Black Shirt, but not enough on Adriana (Daisy Wood-Davis) leaving the love story aspect unexplored.
There are some very touching moments, particularly between brothers Cosmo and Lorenzo (Alex James Ellison and Yuki Sutton), but also some great comedy, driven mainly by Matt Blaker’s superb portrayal of the germaphobe accountant that steps well out of his own comfort zone.
Victoria and Todd Buchholz’s score is delightful and warm-hearted, with some real catchy tunes audiences will be humming on the way home. Glory Ride has great potential as the story is so compelling, it perhaps just needs to up the ante a little in terms of the daring exploits of Bartali and his co-conspirators, to ensure the audience feel the tension.
With some re-working of the book, including expanding Giorgio Nico’s comedy role, and introducing a greater element of danger, Glory Ride could be a sure-fire hit once the writers get it over the finish line.