“Ride: A New Musical” Opens at in San Diego

The Old Globe is now presenting the US premiere of the London hit musical.

This two hander tells the improbable yet true story of Annie Cohen Kopchovsky, the first woman to circle the globe on a bicycle. Set in 1894, Annie (played incredibly well and to the hilt by Alex Finke) is addressing the executives of the New York World newspaper, owned by Joseph Pulitzer. In various flashbacks, Annie describes how she took on the seemingly impossible journey as part of a wager between two men who claimed a woman would be unable to make the circuit of the Earth in 15 months and earn $5000 en route.

Livvy Marcus as Martha and Alex Finke as Annie in Ride. Photo by Jim Cox.

Renaming herself as Annie Londonderry, in deference to one of her sponsors, she made headlines around the world with her accomplishment and soon faded from view. This musical does a fine job of putting her feat into historical context with a complex stew of class, race, economics, faith, gender, heritage and sexuality. By the 1890s the women’s movement was in full swing, with efforts to release women not only from constraining attire, but stifling lifestyles as well. The bicycle afforded women newfound freedom, just as the automobile and The Pill would in the decades to follow.

With book, music, and lyrics by Freya Catrin Smith and Jack Williams, director Sarah Meadows leverages the intriguing story admirably. Aided by excellent production work, the setting evolves from the newspaper office to a French border entry, a desert oasis and various other stops on Annie’s journey.

Kudos to Amy Jane Cook (Scenic and Costume Design), Andrew Johnson (Sound Design), Jamie Platt (Lighting Design) and John Bulleid (Illusion Design). These wizards give the production solid sizzle.

Livvy Marcus as Martha and Alex Finke as Annie in Ride. Photo by Jim Cox.

The musical opens and closes wonderfully, but there is a bit of drag in the middle third. Nonetheless the crisp 90 minute running time is peppered with several catchy songs, including “Everybody Loves A Lie.” This song is an apologia for Annie, who spins large tales as she spans the globe. No reference is made as to whether her newspaper columns also spun such fiction, or if anyone cared.

Livvy Marcus plays the role of Martha, Annie’s secretary and eventual aide de camp. The two actors assay roughly six different characters over the course of the evening.

Aided by both sleight of hand and other stage illusions, Annie’s exuberance as played by Finke and the intriguing historical context of the story make for a satisfying evening.

Tickets and further information here.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.