Zoot Suit: the Production

Edward James Olmos as El Pachuco and Daniel Valdez  as Henry Reyna, Mark Taper Forum, 1978 . (Courtesy of Mark Taper Forum)

Edward James Olmos as El Pachuco and Daniel Valdez as Henry Reyna, Mark Taper Forum, 1978 . (Courtesy of Mark Taper Forum)

Zoot Suit shattered all box office records when it premiered on July 28, 1978 in Los Angeles, California. The production commissioned by the Mark Taper Forum opened the 1978-1979 season and continued its run at the Aquarius Theatre in Hollywood. It debuted as the first Chicano theatrical production on Broadway in New York on March 25, 1979. Its theatrical success convinced Universal Studios to convert Zoot Suit into the first Chicano written, performed and directed feature length film in history.

Synopsis

Set in the streets of East Los Angeles, California, Zoot Suit, written by Luis Valdez, is a musical drama that recounts events of the 1940s. The play recreates the social and political climate of the time by weaving together big band music, choreography, storytelling, historical facts, myth and Caló.

The production is inspired by two historical events in Los Angeles. In 1942, members of the predominately Mexican American East Los Angeles 38th Street Gang were wrongly accused and convicted of murder in what became known as the Sleepy Lagoon Murder Trial. This trial was symbolic of the racial intolerance against Mexicans in Los Angeles. In 1943, these tensions escalated into the Zoot Suit Riots, a violent clash between zoot suit wearing Pachucos, United States servicemen and Los Angeles law enforcement. The play recounts these events through the eyes of a group of Mexican American youth, between the ages of 16 and 20, who were immersed in the zoot suit culture of the 1940s in East Los Angeles.

1979 Producción de Zoot Suit, Teatro Acuario (Cortesía de Alma Martinez)

(Left to right) Alma Martinez, Rachael Levario, Anne Betancourt, Becky Gonzalez, Laura Owens, Bel Herandez, Evelina Fernandez, Susie Inyoue, Dyana Ortelli, Aquarius Theatre, 1979. (Courtesy Mark Taper Forum)