Culture

Ride review – jaunty new musical takes cyclist’s feat for a spin

Annie Cohen Kopchovsky seems at first to embody the American dream: a Latvian Jewish immigrant in Boston, she became in 1895 “the first woman to cycle around the world” after reinventing herself as Annie Londonderry. The new surname was based on a sponsorship deal and she placed advertisements on her body as she circumnavigated the globe.

But there was much more to Annie than the rugged individualism and capitalist “can do” brawn. This musical by Freya Catrin Smith and Jack Williams, directed by Sarah Meadows, reveals her to be far more nuanced than the female Phileas Fogg she appears at first, or even the simple symbol of feminist self-determination for which she came to be known at the turn of the 20th century.

We first meet Annie (Liv Andrusier) after her trip, in an oak-panelled office of the “New York World” newspaper, where she is pitching her life story to an offstage audience of editors. She ropes in the secretary, Martha (Yuki Sutton), to re-enact her capers in the hope of securing a column.

Annie is a fast-talking self-promoter, not the most reliable of aspiring journalists with her penchant for embellishing the truth. Andrusier, who graduated just last year, is a firecracker in the part – light on her feet with a big, impressive voice as she sings dramatic numbers like the title song. Sutton keeps up alongside her, and gets better as her accompanying roles become more characterful.

Along for the ride … Yuki Sutton, right, plays several accompanying roles.
Along for the ride … Yuki Sutton, right, plays several accompanying roles. Photograph: Danny Kaan

The music is strong, if slightly samey, although the meat of the story takes some time to reach. We pootle along jauntily, meeting aristocrats on ocean crossings and encounter a bike confiscation in France. The plot points do not feel big enough until almost an hour into the show when we hear of Londonderry’s marriage and three children back home, her tragic early family life and her reasons for running away.

This knowledge, along with her love affair with married Harvard professor, Fred Rose (Sutton), who she meets on her trip, undermines the ideal of the American dream by reflecting on all the big, immovable forces that have worked against her. The rousing song The Charmed Existence of Fred Rose speaks of his casual class entitlement and male privilege in stark contrast to her battles.

Whatever its shortfalls, this is a soulful musical with its biggest asset in Andrusier, who is captivating to watch throughout. A glittering new musical star has surely been launched.

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