Book, music & lyrics by Victoria Buchholz and Todd Buchholz
Charing Cross Theatre
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The old show formula of a love triangle in troubling times can grab an audience. Think of the film Casablanca. Two men in love with the same woman. The hero seems compromised but makes a stand. A blow is struck against fascism.
Accompany that formula with some grand pop songs with an uplifting feel and the musical results must surely be a hit.
Glory Ride has all that and an impressive cast. It follows the story based on the actual Italian events of the prize-winning cyclist Gino Bartali (Josh St. Clair) who grew up during the increasing prominence of the Italian fascist Mussolini.
In the show, his imagined best friend Mario Carita (Fed Zanni) who introduces him to Adriana Bani (Amy Di Bartolomeo) the woman they both fall in love with, becomes a Major for the Blackshirts and responsible for the security of Florence. All three of them are subject to the watchful eye of the ruthless commander Rodolfo Graziani (Ryan Bennett), known as the butcher.
Although some people, including his father, disapprove of Gino’s association with the fascists, secretly, he is in league with the resistance that includes his accountant Giorgio Nico (Daniel Robinson) and Cardinal Dalla Costa (Niall Sheehy) who are running a clandestine operation to provide false identity cards for partisans including Jewish people who were at risk from the regime.
Gino’s unique position as a successful cyclist gives him the freedom to travel with little scrutiny from place to place, distributing the documents. Later in the story, he also attaches a small trailer to his bike in which he smuggles Jewish children to the border.
Although Glory Ride would seem to fit the current conservative yearning for light, escapist spectacle, particularly amongst those with the money to pay for expensive seats, this one is flawed.
The easiest flaw to change is the curious collection of imagined Italian accents. We are supposed to be seeing something happening in Italy, so why have the actors speak (the accents are abandoned for the songs) stunted sentences as if they have not quite learned to speak English? None of the Italians I know speak like that, and I don't recall ever seeing Ibsen performed with odd Norwegian accents or Brecht with German accents etc. Ditch the accents. They are not necessary.
The simplistic story with minimal functional dialogue tends towards the melodramatic. There is no exploration of the possible dramatic tensions. Two bearded, black-shirted fascists with faces twisted into evil threats say very little beyond ordering executions. They rarely hang about, and to save time sometimes shoot people themselves. They are like silent movie cartoon villains that I keep expecting to stroke their beards.
Major Mario Carita and a young blackshirt are depicted a little better, being shown to have reservations about what they are expected to do, but we never know why they have these reservations.
Although two fascists are ordered to keep an eye on Adriana, we don't know why this happens since the story pitches her essentially as a love interest.
Unfortunately, the characters are all a bit one-dimensional, leaving the music to carry the burden of the show. If only it could carry that burden, but the lyrics when you can catch them don't really progress the plot and the songs sound very similar, with the exception of the funny, entertaining number "Green Eye Shades", which seems to belong to a comic revue.
A stack of rich people in London would like nothing better than a light escapist adventure story, but I suspect Glory Ride doesn't yet fit the bill.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna