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  • Writer's pictureSarah

'Glory Ride' review: an amazing story of heroism made into a musical, an off West End theatre show

When I received the invitation to review 'Glory Ride' I couldn't believe what I was reading about its central character, Gino Bartali, the twice winning Tour de France cyclist. The biggest question that I had was why did we know more about this extraordinary man and his astounding bravery?


I was aware of the bravery of the Italian partisans only too well from one of my parents' friends, Charles West. He was a pilot who took the SAS into enemy territory and was captured several times, and escaped from POW camps not once but twice. At one point he was hidden under the floorboards of a house in Italy by brave Italians whilst the black-shirts searched above him. A little of his story can be found here.


Gino Bartali was not a soldier, he was an cyclist, and one of the most famous men in Italy in 1938 having won the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France. It would have been easy to take a route of least resistance when you have relative wealth and a great deal of protection. But that was not what Gino was made off, instead he worked with the partisans and the Cardinal of Florence to help Italian Jews and other 'undesirables' flee to Switzerland.


Initially he worked with his accountant to falsify papers, which he hid within his hollow bike frame, and delivered them to those who needed them. This escalated to hiding a family in his own house and towing a small cart behind his bicycle within which he moved children to safety. When stopped and questioned, he just claimed that it was part of his training. Cardinal Dalla Costa secreted more than 800 children throughout Tuscany, in monasteries, convents, churches. The scale of the operation is actually pretty stunning.


Gino was an unassuming hero though, and didn't talk about this part of his life. Nor did Georgio 'Nico' Nissim the accountant (a Jew hiding in plain sight). Nico's family published his diaries in 2005 and that's when the stories were told.


So, how does this amazing story translate into a musical? It doesn't seem likely subject matter for this treatment, but then neither does Les Misérables. Staged at an off West End theatre gives the producers and directors the space to experiment. The story is pretty gripping, and both Josh St. Clair as Gino and Amy Di Bartolomeo have powerful voices. Although in this small theatre they really didn't need to be as amplified as much they were, it was a bit deafening at times, especially when Amy belted out a song.

 Fed Zanni as …otographer Marc Brenner
Fed Zanni as Mario and Josh St.Clair as Gino before the blackshirts. Photo credit Marc Brenner

I found that there were too many stories trying to told, with the consequence that each felt undeveloped, and I wasn't emotionally moved by the musical. There was the story of Gino and his friend Mario Carita. Both have had traumatic childhoods, Gino's younger brother was killed in a cycling accident, whilst Mario was described a 'church orphan'. They deal with their trauma and Fascism in very different ways. Gino pursues a solo sport and helps in an individual way, whilst Mario joins the Italian army to belong and to protect Italy through the strength of a group. Their different paths and their intersections would have made for a powerful story alone.


Then there's the story of Gino and this parents, who are unaware of his activities and ashamed of him taking the easy route (as they mistakenly thought0. The chasm that opens between them must have been very painful, but it felt glossed over quickly in this production.


There's story of Gino and the accountant Nico, who was pivotal in getting the documents to the people that needed to leave Italy. The scene where Nico visits the Vatican to ask the 'bankers' for money to help with the escapes, is supposed to be humorous, but didn't quite hit the mark, and felt a bit out of kilter with the rest of the story.

The love story between Gino and Adriana - the powerful Amy Di Bartolomeo - Gino holds Adriana face between his hands.  Photo credit Marc Brenner
The love story between Gino and Adriana - the powerful Amy Di Bartolomeo. Photo credit Marc Brenner

And on top of that, there's a love story between Gino and Adriana, the woman he marries and lives happily with for 60 years until death. How they hid the Goldenbergs, and the legacy arising from that - their children and grandchildren only existed because of Gino and Adriana.

Niall Sheehy as Cardinal Elia Dalla Costa standing in the Cathedral doorway.  Photo credit Marc Brenner
Niall Sheehy as Cardinal Elia Dalla Costa. Photo credit Marc Brenner

I really liked the set designs by PJ McEvoy and lighting by Rob Halliday showing Florence and the Tuscan hills at different times of day. For such a small theatre and stage this was cleverly done.


I really feel that this musical has huge potential, with a bit more focus on which story is to be told, then this Glory Ride could be the next Les Misérables.


Book, Music & Lyrics by Victoria Buchholz & Todd Buchholz Directed by Kelly Devine


Cast:

Josh St. Clair, Amy Di Bartolomeo, Niall Sheehy, Fed Zanni, Daniel Robinson, Ruairidh McDonald, Ryan Bennett, Peter Watts, James Coyne, Loris Scarpa, Susianna Paisio, Steve Watts, Alice SpigariolNial Sheekhy,

Where: Charing Cross Theatre

The Arches

Villiers Street

London WC2N 6NL


Box Office:

08444 930650


Prices: from £25.00


Premium seats: add programme and glass of bubbly for only £7.50 extra.


A £2.50 booking fee applies to phone and internet orders;

no booking fee to in person over the counter sales.

A restoration levy applies to all tickets


The box office is open from 2 hours before curtain time on performance days for in person sales


When:

Now until 29 July, 2023


Monday to Saturday evenings at 7.30pm


Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2.30pm


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