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GLORY RIDE: 5 Stars for a New Musical with Championship Potential

Glory Ride's debut is staggering in its storytelling and entertainment value.

Glory Ride Musical at Charing Cross Theatre
Josh St. Clair as Gino Bartali in Glory Ride at Charing Cross Theatre

Photo credit: Marc Brenner

Review By: Theatre Monthly Panel

At the curtain call for new musical Glory Ride, nearly every audience member stood and cheered. Then the music stopped, and something strange happened: this panel found it difficult to actually leave Charing Cross Theatre. We were rather taken aback—having never heard of this true story, did we just witness the birth of a brilliant new musical?

The answer is yes (or should we say, ?). Glory Ride explores the wartime life of Gino Bartali, two-time winner of the Tour de France, played with bravado and honest emotion by Josh St. Clair. Bartali worked with Cardinal Dalla Costa of Florence, a quiet accountant, and an indomitable painter, risking his life to help save innocent children from Mussolini’s fascists during the Second World War.

St. Clair’s Bartali is towering both physically (he’s tall for a champion cyclist) and vocally, as he climbs the Alps and scales the soaring score, even while pedaling on a 1940s racing bike. The music, composed by Victoria Buchholz, cries out for a cast album which sadly does not yet exist. When St. Clair sings Look Ahead and points to the mountains of Tuscany (a beautiful set designed by PJ McEvoy), one feels like climbing on a bike alongside. MD'd by Dave Rose and orchestrated by Jen Green with plenty of strings, many songs sound Italianate and at times emulate the feel of a Tour de France competition.

Niall Sheehy brings his clear tenor and exquisite acting to the role of Cardinal Dalla Costa, particularly in 800 Souls, the kind of uplifting anthem that might someday end up in church liturgy. As Giorgio Nico, Daniel Robinson displays protean physical and verbal skills. In a single word like “pigeons” he earns a laugh. Glory Ride’s humorous moments and songs, notably Green Eye Shades and Songlette in Teal give the thoughtful book pops of colour. Amy Di Bartolomeo conquers the stage in a role she seems destined to play, startling the audience with powerhouse vocals and passion in show-stopping numbers like Promises and Nothing Feels Beautiful Anymore.

On the darker side of Glory Ride’s colour wheel is Fed Zanni’s Mario Carita, a childhood friend of Bartali who becomes a Blackshirt. Zanni commands this complex role with nuance and intelligence, harnessing coiled rage into some of the cleverest lyrics in the show. In Road to Damascus, he refers to the Jews he is hunting, “Why tie our fate to that sentenced lot? They made their choice Saul, not Paul/ Do we take their fall?” Ryan Bennett inhabits his role of Commander Graziani, Carita’s Blackshirt boss, with bone-chilling baritone menace.

Even the supporting players in this fledgling show stand out. Ruairidh McDonald instantly makes the audience feel for Felix, a Blackshirt guard who yearns to return to his days as a violinist, while Peter Watts appears as a mafioso, a Blackshirt, and a bishop, each time finding a different voice and carrying his body in a different, utterly convincing way. Jamie Coyne is particularly endearing in his portrayal of a young boy named Cosmo.

Glory Ride is not perfect, of course. Some scenes are slightly under-lit (conserving power?) Some songs could have ended with more flourish. The show moves at a quick pace, and we could have spent another moment or two in certain scenes and songs to reinforce the drama and characterisation already on display. Perhaps American writers Todd Buchholz and Victoria Buchholz and director Kelly Devine (Olivier-winner for Come From Away) wanted to show restraint in front of a British audience. Small qualms aside, Glory Ride is captivating, emotional, original, and bursting with commercial appeal. For this reason, we’re giving this small-for-now show a rare 5-star rating.

Glory Ride plays at Charing Cross through July. Go see it.

Glory Ride Review is 5 Stars for a Show Brimming with Potential
Glory Ride Musical Review: 5 Stars


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