Theater Review: RIDE (American Premiere at the Old Globe)

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by Dan Zeff on April 6, 2024

in Theater-San Diego


Annie Cohen Kopchovsky was a late 19th-century young English working-class woman who wanted to upgrade her life. So she tried to earn money and recognition as well as elevating her status as a woman. To that end, in 1894 and 1895, she gained fame as the first woman to ride a bicycle solo around the world, traveling under the name of Annie Londonderry.

Annie’s story was rescued from obscurity in Ride, an English musical by Freya Catrin Smith (book, music, and lyrics) and Jack Williams (music and lyrics). which won a bunch of awards in England after its debut in 2023. Ride‘s American premiere opened last night at the Old Globe Theater in Balboa Park. And an exciting premiere it is.

Livvy Marcus as Martha and Alex Finke as Annie

Ride has only two on-stage characters, Annie (Alex Finke) and her assistant Martha (Livvy Marcus). It begins in the office of a New York City newspaper where Annie is attempting to convince the room of invisible editors to sponsor her on a round-the-world solo bicycle journey to win a cash prize and international fame. The audition then segues into Annie’s history (some stories true and some fabricated). The scene also introduces self-effacing Martha, who occupies an increasing amount of musical and narrative space.

Alex Finke as Annie

Ride shifts gears radically from the ebullient song-and-dance opening to the grim scene of Annie enduring the hardscrabble life of a poor young wife and mother. The veracity of some of Annie’s struggles against sexism, class prejudice, and other social evils may be problematic, but what is not open to question is the brilliance of the Old Globe production and especially the performances by Finke and Marcus.

 Livvy Marcus as Martha

Finke has a soaring, at times blast furnace voice. She also is a deft comedian and a quality dancer and runs on a full tank of energy from first scene to last. The demands on her vocal cords and her stamina can only be imagined. Livvy Marcus enters the show on low key and serves as a sidekick to the dominating Annie during the early minutes of the production, but her Martha grows in stature until the character stands equal to Annie by the final backout.

Livvy Marcus as Martha and Alex Finke as Annie

Late in the play, we learn about Annie’s impoverished early life (she was married with three small children) and her struggles as a spirited and ambitious young female facing the misogynist society of her day. There are anecdotes about her experiences in various parts of the world on her solo bicycle voyage and even some delightful hand magic tricks scattered throughout the narrative.

Livvy Marcus as Martha and Alex Finke as Annie

British Director Sarah Meadows sustains the production’ visual, verbal, and aural elements with maximum entertainment effect. Choreographer Jennifer Jancuska is responsible for the show’s splendid dancing and movement. Music supervisor Sam Young remarkably gets a full orchestral effect from his small band.

The design team, mostly imported from the acclaimed British production, are wizards at filling the large Shiley Stage playing area with color and variety through evocative lighting, vivid sets and costumes, striking videos, graphic art, and mood sustaining sound. So all praise goes to Amy Jane Cook (scenic and costume design), Jamie Platt (lighting design), Andrew Johnson (sound design), Matt Powell (video design), and John Bulleid (illusion design).

photos by Jim Cox

The Old Globe
Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park
90 minutes without an intermission.
ends on April 28, 2024
for tickets (starting at $29), call 619.234-5623 or visit The Old Globe

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Peter Zheutlin April 9, 2024 at 1:49 am

While RIDE has certainly played an important role in bringing Annie Londonderry’s story to a wider audience, and is well worthy of this excellent review, it’s not quite accurate to say it rescued Annie from obscurity. Annie has been the subject of two previous musicals, one that premiered in Toronto in 2009 and another produced in Vicenza, Italy a few years ago. There are also two books about her, one non-fiction called “Around the World on Two Wheels: Annie Londonderry’s Extraordinary Ride” published in 2007, and a novel, “Spin,” published in 2021.


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