(Robert Ito’s article appeared in The New York Times, 12/6; via Pam Green.)
LOS ANGELES — When “Zoot Suit” first opened at the Mark Taper Forum in 1978, little about the production screamed hit. Much of the cast had scant acting experience. The story itself was a Brechtian take on a relatively obscure unsolved murder in 1942 Los Angeles; its climax involved a humiliating assault on a Latino man by racist United States servicemen. Just a decade earlier, its writer and director, Luis Valdez, was creating short skits for audiences of striking farmworkers in the fields of the Central Valley in California.
But audiences kept coming, and coming, selling out show after packed show. Fans came one week and returned with their families the next; Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead is said to have seen the play 22 times. After running for 11 months to sold-out audiences, first at the Taper and then at the Aquarius Theater in Hollywood, “Zoot Suit” moved to New York’s Winter Garden in 1979, where it became the first Chicano theatrical production on Broadway. Mr. Valdez then directed a feature-film version, which was released in 1982. “We had no idea any of this would happen, man,” he said. “It was like this huge explosion.”