Ride, making an anticipated return to London in a Southwark Playhouse production next month, has released its first cast recording. It’s instantly thrilling; the opening number, ‘The World’s Greatest Story’, lays out exactly why we should care about Annie Londonderry, the first woman to cycle around the world and a forgotten legend of feminism, and so we are drawn in. As with the best musical theatre albums, the story is discernible from the score, which one hopes will give the album an edge in helping the show to gain traction. The vocals, by Liv Andrusier and Yuki Sutton, are stunning, though the jump between accents in speech and song is a little jarring. The title number, given advance release, is an earworm of an “I Want” number, and is well chosen.
The feature that makes Ride work so well in a cast recording is that a lot of it is narrative, with Annie explaining her situation to us. Incredibly useful in an album, this can often be a drawback onstage, but it really works here. Furthermore, the runaway success of shows like Hamilton and Come From Away shows that with good direction, that kind of narrative writing can thrive both onstage and in audio, and it’s definitely necessary as Annie cycles around the world in a single song (‘Out of Time’). The narrative writing is helped by the fact that Annie and Martha are great spinners of the truth, adding drama to the act of narration.
Freya Catrin-Smith and Jack Williams have written a strong show; the lyrics are slick without sticking out as effortful, which is hard to do. Musically, the songs are catchy, but the songs are all harmonically and structurally similar, which begins to wear thin by the end of the cast recording. A little more variety would increase interest, particularly to a listener without onstage visuals to accompany the music. The final number, ‘Ride the Moment’, which ends on a note of hush, is probably more dramatic onstage and gets a little lost here, but these are the sacrifices that have to be made when recording what is primarily a piece of theatre.
This recording is no doubt intended to raise hype for the show’s upcoming run, and it will certainly do that – between Ride and Operation Mincemeat, it is fantastic to see new musicals being given opportunities not just to play but to record and so increase their reach beyond London fanbases. This recording is slick and narratively clear, and will certainly do that.
RIDE is on at Southwark Playhouse Elephant from the 19th of July until the 12th of August – find more info here!