La Strada (musical)
Original Broadway Windowcard
|Book||Charles K. Peck, Jr.|
|Basis||Federico Fellini film
La Strada is a musical with lyrics and music by Lionel Bart, with additional lyrics by Martin Charnin and additional music by Elliot Lawrence. It is based on the 1954 film of the same name by Federico Fellini. Bart wrote the score in 1967 and made a demonstration recording, although the musical was not produced until 1969, when it was famously cancelled after just one performance. The musical's book was written by Charles K. Peck, Jr., who also produced it on Broadway.
The play follows the story of the film of the same name. Gelsomina, a young girl, is sold by her impoverished mother to a brutish circus strongman, Zampanò, to be his assistant. She shows her abilities as a clown and soon becomes the star of the show. She falls in love with Zampanò, despite his abuse of her. But tragedy strikes when she befriends a circus clown (Mario), who gives her advice and friendship, and Zampanò kills him in a jealous fit. Zampanò eventually leaves Gelsomina, who still loves him, to die on the road.
Characters and original Broadway cast
- Gelsomina – Bernadette Peters
- Zampano – Stephen Pearlman
- Mother – Anne Hegira
- Mario – Larry Kert
- Elsa – Lisa Belleran
- Eva – Mary Ann Robbins
- Sophia – Susan Goeppinger
- Castra – Lucille Patton
Productions and background
The musical had its out of town tryouts at the Fisher Theatre in Detroit, Michigan starting on October 27, 1969. La Strada opened on December 14, 1969 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on Broadway after 14 previews. The show was directed by Alan Schneider, with choreography by Alvin Ailey and Joyce Trisler. It closed the same night, losing $650,000.
There was a studio cast "concept album" produced in 1967 by Lionel Bart and Chris Curtis, with Madeline Bell in the Gelsomina role. In 1994, Bayview Records re-released this recording. Only two or three songs remained in the final play as produced on Broadway. In discussing La Strada's problems, Steven Suskin wrote that Lionel Bart apparently did not go to the United States to assist during rehearsals, and neither the director (Alan Schneider) nor the choreographer (Alvin Ailey) had previously done a Broadway musical. Peters confirms that Bart never worked on the show in New York in this interview: "The script really wasn't ready, and Lionel Bart was never coming over. Marty Charnin and his partner at the time [composer Elliot Lawrence] rewrote it." 
Ken Mandelbaum wrote about La Strada in his book, Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Flops. During try-outs, the original strongman, Vincent Beck as Zampano, was replaced. He discusses that all but three of the original songs were replaced. Furthermore, "...it followed a relentlessly bleak, tragic screenplay, it emerged as one of the most depressing musicals ever... Bernadette Peters, in her first Broadway lead, did not let the show down...The score was not bad, particularly Peters haunting opening "Seagull, Starfish, Pebble" written by Lawrence and Charnin..."
Although bootleg live recordings of the score are known to exist, no original cast album was ever commercially released. Two songs from the show were later included on an obscure EP entitled Martin Charnin's Mini Album: 5 Great Songs from Not-So-Great Shows, which was released in 1976 by Take Home Tunes (later to become Original Cast records). One of these songs, "Sooner or Later" was performed by Larry Kert, who had been an original cast member. A recording of "Starfish", as performed by Judy Kuhn, was included on the anthology Unsung Musicals, released by Varèse Sarabande in 1994.
In his review in the New York Times, Clive Barnes wrote that the book was superficial and the music bland and trite. However, he praised Bernadette Peters, writing "In a different show the birdlike and croaky Bernadette Peters would have become a star overnight." 
- Information from Bayview Records
- Playbill.com "On the Record", Steven Suskin, August 8, 2004
- Suskin, Steven. The Sound of Broadway Music (2009). Oxford University Press US, ISBN 0-19-530947-2, p. 43
- Mandelbaum, p. 177
- Grode, Eric. Showmusic: The Musical Theatre Magazine, "Songs of Bernadette", Summer 1997, Volume Thirteen, Number Two, pp. 21 ff.
- Mandelbaum, p. 171
- New York Times, "The Theatre: 'La Strada' With Music", December 15, 1969, p. 63
- Mandelbaum, Ken (1991), "Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Flops", St. Martin's Press, ISBN 0-312-06428-4