Ride A New Musical

“.....it’s an enthralling tale of a woman who did something extraordinary at great personal cost"

Ride begins in 1895 at the New York World’s office. Annie Londonderry (Liv Andrusier) is pitching to the audience (we are her prospective employer) for a newspaper column. She has our attention. When Martha Smith (Katie Ellis) walks in, nervously carrying a tray of drinks, Annie coaxes the shy secretary (a fan of Annie) to help recount her lone cycle journey around the world. 

Annie tells it, that she took a wager with two wealthy businessmen who doubted that a woman could circumnavigate the globe on a bicycle. In a sponsorship deal with Londonderry Lithia Spring Water, she changed her name from Kophovsky and off she went, funding the trip by selling advertisements on her body and lecturing about anything and everything. 

When creators Freya Catrin Smith (Book, Music & Lyrics) and Jack Williams (Music & Lyrics) discovered the true story of Annie, they obsessively researched it and found inspiration for their musical in books by Annie’s ancestor, Peter Zheutlin. On the face of it, the piece is about the ride, but it delves deeper than this. Little is known about Annie other than her beginnings and the public image she created for herself following the ride;  the rest is imagined. This is fitting for a tale about an audacious embellisher and self-promoter as I left wondering which bits are true, which parts were made up by Annie and where the writers have used creative license.   

The melodic score is played by an accomplished three-piece band. There’s a mix of buoyant sparkly numbers featuring characters Annie meets on her travels and slower songs describing more poignant events. Unfortunately, I couldn’t always follow the fast-paced dialogue of the upbeat tunes because the sound was sometimes problematic and there were a few wobbles on the lower notes.  

Liv Andrusier belts out the songs with power and her portrayal of Annie is nuanced. She captures this punchy, over-confident woman who pulled off a remarkable feat. I didn’t always warm to her, making the contrasting softer side to Annie, revealed in lover’s duet, “the Charmed Existence of Fred Rose”, one of the show’s most memorable moments. I felt Annie’s overwhelming desire to run off through Andruisier’s emotional delivery of the spine-tingling “Stranger” in a scene where we learn of Annie’s past. 

Likeable sidekick Martha is an antidote to Annie. As Martha blossoms, Ellis’ performance gets bigger and she has a lovely voice. Playing multiple people from Annie’s journey, she shows off a range of accents and her comic character acting. 

Amy Jane Cook’s wood panelled office with floor to ceiling bookshelves, transports us to the late nineteenth century. Unexpected things happen to the skilfully designed set, adding to the entertainment.  An interactive map of the world plots the ride, rolling library ladders are handy to hang off in the routines, drawers of a large oak chest open into steps that light up as the duo dance up and down them and a secret panel slides up for train carriage seats to emerge through steam.  

Annie’s conversation with the audience dwindles as the show goes on, so when she refers back to us amid dialogue with Martha and them playing out the scenes, it spoils the flow a little. Nevertheless, it’s an enthralling tale of a woman who did something extraordinary at great personal cost.  Too many women’s stories have been lost throughout history, but I have a feeling this one has found its place on the stage and Ride, A New Musical will raise Annie Londonderry’s profile. No one would be more pleased about this than Annie! 

This show was reviewed on the 24th July 2023.  Ride A New Musical runs at Southwark Playhouse Elephant until the 12th August 2023.  Tickets available here: Ride - Southwark Playhouse

Review written by Victoria Willetts

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Photo credit: Danny Kaan

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