I so very much enjoyed GLORY RIDE ~ a new musical based on the extraordinary life of Italian cycling legend Gino Bartali. Born to a poor family, unable to afford to buy his first bike (loaned to him by a nun), and traumatised by a dreadful family tragedy as a young man, his life was unbelievably changed by cycling.
Bartali won the Giro d’italie 3 times and the prestigious Tour de France twice: in 1938 and again in 1948. In between these 2 victories which are impressive enough in themselves, what he did during the war years from 1943 to 1945 when Germany occupied Northern Italy is even more extraordinary…
Gino Bartali was the pride of the Mussolini regime – and he risked his life to defy the Nazis, working secretly with the resistance saving some 800 Italian Jews (and other ‘undesirables’) including many children, from being transported to concentration camps or simply shot.
Bartali was in some way a man of contradictions: courageous, with a deep religious faith and a celebrity who was mobbed where ever he went. As. A favoured ‘son of Italy’ he was able to negotiate free movement outside of the city which had been closed off to everyone else with no exceptions. This unusual combination of humility and public hero-worship was seized on by Cardinal Elia Dalla Costa as providing perfect distraction cover for members of the resistance to pass ‘edited’ papers to others in crowded locations, giving Jewish Italians new identities, whilst hero-worshipping blackshirt guards were distracted by Bartali.
He also hid papers in his cycle and delivered them all over Northern Italy right under the noses of the blackshirts, and then even more riskily, smuggled children out in a cart attached to his bike which he told the authorities, was for strength training purposes to help him stay fit for cycle races after the war. Eventually, officials did become suspicious and he was arrested and captured in 1944 but released without charge.
Bartali never spoke of what he had done and no one knew until after his death aged 85 in 2000. He saw himself as a cyclist rather than a wartime hero saving people ~ this was something anyone would do as a human being. He used to say “Some medals are not pinned to your heart, they are pinned to your soul…”
This is the first writing project of American father and daughter, Todd and Victoria Buchholz and they have lavished 9 years of care, creativity and determination to tell this incredible story ~ Victoria’s gorgeous score is in itself hugely impressive with beautiful, stirring orchestrations by Jen Green. An outstanding 5 piece band is wonderfully conducted by Dave Rose at a thrilling pace with detail, nuance and elegant musicality. The band themselves deserve individual mention for some masterful playing: Seb Rudnitsky (Violin & Viola), Jack Pennifold (Guitar), Sam Fluskey (Bass), Kevin Campbell (Drums & Percussion).
Add to this a simply SUPERB cast with numerous West End credits! Stupendous, powerful, evocative performances and voices that fill Charing Cross Theatre.
Josh St. Clair as Gino Bartali is stupendous! He inhabits his character completely, physically and emotionally commanding the stage with spine tingling vocals and a truly powerful performance. Everything a leading man should be. Bartali could have refused the call to help the Resistance and indeed he is not convinced at first. In the end he trusts those who ask for his help as his conscience compels him to do what has to be done and St. Clair draws us into contemplation of life-changing consequences.
Niall Sheehy gives an earnest and sympathetic portrayal of anti-fascist, anti-communist Cardinal Elia Dalla Costa who led and coordinated the resistance movement in Tuscany from within his church walls, sheltering and hiding numerous Jews and providing others with fake documentation to flee from persecution. Historically he defied Mussolini from 1938, refusing to support Hitler’s visit to Florence by closing all windows and doors of church properties until Hitler had left. It was Dalla Costa who first saw how Bartali could help save lives and persuaded him to help the Resistance. His singing was very moving.
Some characters are more ‘fleshed out’ than others with those on the wrong side of history perhaps suffering more, and in consequence perhaps becoming archetypal ‘baddies’ rather than individuals who chose a path and then couldn’t leave it. However this is a minor quibble and though it makes the book slightly uneven, it is always compelling and certainly gives a chilling sense of what living under occupation was like.
Fed Zanni is impressive as Bartali’s childhood friend Mario Carità, who becomes the fascist governor of Florence. The programme notes tell us though that Carità was not actually Bartali’s childhood friend but rather ‘a composite of soldiers Bartali encountered throughout the war’.
A powerful, chilling performance and tremendous singing.
Rodolfo Graziani is played extremely menacingly and strongly by Ryan Bennett but in fact it seems realistically as Graziani was one of Mussolini’s top military leaders and feared as the “butcher of Ethiopia”. When the Nazis invaded and occupied Northern Italy, Graziani volunteered to serve the Nazi war effort and led a joint Italian-German force for which he was sentenced to 19 years in prison after the war (though he was released after only a few months of his sentence). His character may seem stereotypically ‘Nazi’ but this is how he terrifyingly was. Sometimes seeming ‘caricatures’ are too close to the truth for comfort.
I very much enjoyed Daniel Robinson’s portrayal of Giorgio ‘Nico’ Nissim. A detailed, warm and witty performance as the ‘strategic accountant’ who ‘edited’ (not forged!) papers and worked with Cardinal Dalla Costa on their daring mission to save human lives from the Nazis. Like Bartali he also never spoke of his work during the war and continued life as an unassuming accountant after the war. Robinson’s performance is a delight.
Amy Di Bartolomeo is a tremendous singer and actress and plays Bartali’s future wife Adriana Bani ~ they married in 1940 and were together for 60 years. Bartali hid his dangerous cycling endeavours from Adriana and we see tensions caused by genuine fear of death, but together they hid a Jewish family in their home. Their duets and solos are a highlight of Glory Ride conveying great emotion.
Director & Choreographer Kelly Devine creates the vibrancy and hustle and bustle of Florence with creative staging and Bartali’s inspiring story at the centre of everything.
Other supporting characters and ensemble also deliver compelling performances: Ruairidh McDonald, Jamie Coyne and Loris Scarpa make the most of their characters as young Felix, Cosmo and Lorenzo.
Susanna Paisio, Steve Watts, Peter Watts and Alice Spigariol play Bartali’s parents and other Florence citizens with great empathy and spirit.
There is Beautiful Design from P.J. McEvoy, and lighting from Rob Halliday turning an elegant Florence town square seamlessly into a Church interior with evocative use of archive footage and projections.
The writers and creative team have got SO much right with Glory Ride: a Superb Cast, Beautiful Design and Lighting, Vibrant Staging, a Gorgeous Score wonderfully played, and a truly inspiring story of outstanding courage, bravery and resilience that deserves and needs to known 80 years on!
Individuals can and DO make a difference, supported by other brave, courageous individuals working together against tyranny and evil for justice, humanity and good. We surely need more of this in the 21st century.
Glory Ride lifts the spirit and fills the soul, reminds us of the best of humanity and thrills with Glorious songs and Voices.
Reviewed by Catherine Françoise
Charing Cross Theatre
22 April to 29 July, 2023
GLORY RIDE transports the audience to the golden hills of Tuscany during the darkest days of the Second World War, with a story combining heist, history, humour, and humanity and a soaring new score.
Gino Bartali, one of the most beloved of Italian athletes of all time, had a secret life. A Tour de France winner, in the 1940s he was considered the second most famous man in Italy – after Mussolini. His cycling achievements on the Alps and Pyrenees were legendary, but until recently, few knew that he risked his life by saving hundreds of people from fascism during World War II.
With his cycling career as a cover, Bartali cycled thousands of miles between cities across Italy. Hidden in the frame of his bike were falsified identity cards and other secret documents to help victims cross borders to safety. His bravery rescued hundreds of persecuted Jews and other refugees, many of whom were children. In 2013, Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, recognised Gino Bartali with the honour of Righteous Among the Nations.
Bartali was a local hero as well as a national figurehead, renowned in his community for his indefatigable commitment to helping others. His story has a powerful message about bravery, loyalty and doing the right thing regardless of the consequences.
Victoria Buchholz encountered the story of Gino Bartali while travelling in Tuscany and set out to put it to music as GLORY RIDE, working with her father, Todd, a best-selling author, inventor and senior White House economic adviser.
GLORY RIDE was developed through workshops in New York and Los Angeles featuring top Broadway talent, with sold-out staged concerts last year at The Other Palace Theatre in London.
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,
Creative team includes:
Director Kelly Devine
Associate Director Ricky J Hines
Musical Director Dave Rose
Set, Costume & Video Designer PJ McEvoy
Casting Director Harry Blumenau, CDG
General Management Smart Entertainment
Italian Cultural Adviser Federico Bellone
Producers Glory Ride 2023 Ltd
The world premiere of a major new musical
Book, Music & Lyrics by Victoria Buchholz & Todd Buchholz
Directed by Kelly Devine