Glory Ride ★★★ Charing Cross Theatre | Until July 29, 2023

Gino Bartali was a Tour de France winning cyclist and a national celebrity in Italy. This is the chronicle of his heroic, but little known, participation in a scheme to rescue threatened Jewish children during the Fascist regime. It is inspiring stuff and could be the basis of a terrific musical. Glory Ride certainly has some good material to work with, but the focus of the production is unclear. There is the psychological story involving the death of Bartali's brother and his relationship with his father; the professional cyclist story with its many triumphs; the political story packed with too many incidents; the story of the relationship with his friend who becomes a fascist; and finally the obligatory love story. It is unclear what is intended as the main narrative of the piece, and the fact that the show concludes rather flatly with an expository summing up reflects the attempt to deal with too much material. For us, the most interesting theme was the way that different characters dealt with the war and the contrast between Bartali's response to this crisis and that of his friend, Mario. Both suffer childhood trauma but the latter's patriotism and need to belong take the form of becoming a fascist, while Bartali emerges as a star athlete and part of the Resistance. Like much of the music, the contrast between the two companions echoes Les Misérables. However in this case, unlike with the Jean Valjean and Javert conflict, the differing accommodations are not sufficiently explored. Some of the dialogue and lyrics are rather clunky and "chiaroscuro" isn't a very felicitous rhyme with "sure of." Nevertheless, there are some impressive performances. Josh St. Clair as Bartali and Fed Zanni as Mario are both strong, and Amy Di Bartolomeo was a captivating Adriana. Daniel Robinson does the most he can with the almost caricature of a character, the accountant Nico. Full marks for P.J. McEvoy's set design which was clever and beautifully versatile. While the story of Bartali's involvement in the Italian resistance is an uplifting one, in its present version, Glory Ride tries to cram in too much and doesn't fully capture the power of Bartali's heroic life journey.

Rated: ★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Marc Brenner.

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