OffWestEnd talks to Todd Buchholz, co-writer of the new musical Glory Ride, playing at Charing Cross Theatre in London through 29 July

Todd Buchholz is a novelist, economic historian, and producer (Jersey Boys). His novel The Castro Gene, a mystery about a megalomaniacal investor in the Rat Pack era, was a finalist for the USA Best Book Prize. He provided audio narration for his books, The Price of Prosperity, which was named a “must-read” by the Wall Street Journal and Rush, for which he was profiled in The Times. Todd served as a senior advisor at the White House and is a frequent commentator in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and BBC Today.


What first attracted you to the theatre?

I was born in Manhattan, but the summer after I turned ten, a big moving van showed up on our doorstep. I left my friends behind and, though I loved sports, it’s hard to play football by yourself.  My mother got tired of me kicking the legs of the furniture, and so she drove me to a local theatre that was staging The King and I.  The casting director handed me the script for Prince Chulalongkorn. I chatted with a boy who was taller and older. He had dark hair and dark eyes. I didn’t. He also had talent. He got the part. The director made the right choice, for the boy went on to feature roles on Broadway in Les Miserables and Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I always felt good knowing that I lost out to a guy who achieved a Broadway career. In fact, this fine actor (Neal Mayer) appeared in Glory Ride’s New York workshop!

If you could pick any one person or theatre company to work with on your next project, who/which would it be?

When I served at the White House, the speechwriters and I went to the cinema to watch Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V and especially the St. Crispin’s Day speech. We’d all watched Olivier on film and had seen live performances by others. We wondered, what fresh idea could Branagh possibly bring to the table (or to the battle) after 400 years? Well, in the dark of the theatre we all ended up scribbling notes to take back to the White House.

 

What is your opinion of Off West End theatre, in general?

Off West End, like Off Broadway, offers audiences a chance to see what’s next. While it might give creatives and actors a smaller stage to work on, it gives a wider opportunity for creativity. Larger theatres find it difficult to turn down blockbuster movies turned into stage productions. But Off West End theatres are eager to discover something fresh. They’re brave and daring — and to be thanked!

 

What was the most inspiring performance you have ever seen? Why?

I once saw George C. Scott, the great film actor, mesmerize a Broadway audience in Inherit the Wind, the play that put evolution and Darwinism on trial.  While the other actors wildly gestured and shouted, all Scott had to do was raise a quizzical eyebrow, and the audience was enthralled.

What piece of work are you the most proud of?

I’m proud of how the amazing cast performs each night in Glory Ride! I honestly think we have the finest cast performing on a London stage. Josh St. Clair as Gino Bartali and Amy Di Bartolomeo as Adriana Bani rock the theatre. You can feel the audience wanting to interrupt their songs to cheer. Fed Zanni displays remarkably subtle and explosive acting as Carita; Niall Sheehy’s soaring tenor as Cardinal Dalla Costa gets audiences misty-eyed; and Daniel Robinson’s deft comedy skills as Nico have the audience laughing even in the tensest moments. Then our incredible, mighty ensemble add new dimensions to every scene. Our many Italian actors adds authenticity, too, and we’re proud that our Italian audience members seem to be particularly moved by the show.

What makes a really good character?

A great character needs somewhere to go and something that’s stopping him. It could be literal: “I need to get to Paddington by noon. But there’s a bomb scare!” Or psychological: “I need to learn not to be a pushover, but my boss is a brute, and I’m going to miss my mother’s 80th birthday party”. That’s just the start. Great characters think and talk in distinctive ways. Only Tevye can believe in God but tease Him, too. Only Mama Rose can keep her ambition, frustration, and rage corked up for two hours only to explode in “Mama’s Turn”. But here’s the ultimate point: before the show is over a great character does turn or learn, bringing the audience along for a ride, whether wonderful or agonizing.


Are there any actors/actresses you would like to write a play for?

Mark Rylance and Nathan Lane can astound with their talent for morphing from comedy to pathos. The first time I saw Rylance was in Boeing-Boeing on Broadway. I didn’t know him but within minutes I turned to my friend and said, “This guy’s the greatest comic actor I’ve seen onstage”. Then I thought, “Oh wait, Nathan Lane’s across the street”.

What play do you wish you’d written?

I’m not sure about a single play, but Aaron Sorkin’s monologue for Colonel Jessup in A Few Good Men is riveting. People remember the Tom Cruise-Jack Nicholson parry in the film: “You want the truth? / You  can’t handle the truth!” But the lead-up to those lines — Jessup’s justification for his actions and his defiant attitude — are a marvel.

Can you tell our readers about what you’re doing now/next?

We’re working to share Glory Ride with a wider audience within London, within the UK, and onto other countries, too. Audience members seem to love the show. In the surveys we hand out in the lobby after the show, they often ask, “Why don’t more people know about Glory Ride?”.  We’re hoping to change that very soon.

 

Glory Ride is at the Charing Cross Theatre unil 29 July – click HERE for more info and to book tickets.