‘Zoot Suit’ Draws Crowds and Decked-Out Fans in Los Angeles

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Giselle Rios, a theater major at California State University, Los Angeles, during the intermission of “Zoot Suit,” by Luis Valdez.

LOS ANGELES — When “Zoot Suit” made its debut in New York in 1979, it was the first time a Chicano show had made it to Broadway. But the musical, by Luis Valdez, was a distinctly Los Angeles production: It was commissioned by the Mark Taper Forum and portrayed a 1940s murder trial involving zoot-suit-wearing Mexican-American youths known as pachucos. The trial is set against the backdrop of the infamous Zoot Suit riots, a series of racially motivated attacks against Mexican-Americans in summer 1943.

To help mark the Los Angeles Center Theater Group’s 50th anniversary, the show returned recently to the stage here for the first time since 1978. Tickets went on sale late last year and sold out quickly. The production has since been extended three times, a rare occurrence at the theater. The acclaim and the enthusiasm demonstrate that the play touches a deep nerve in this city, particularly at another moment of political upheaval.

Some of the shows most devoted fans are showing up to the performances dressed in their own zoot suits and vintage attire. We spoke to some of them to find out what the play means to them. These interviews have been condensed and edited.

Photographs by Melissa Lyttle for The New York Times

Luis Guerrero, 25, of Wilmington

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Luis Guerrero, right, and Danny Flores dressed like pachucos.

When I first saw the movie in high school I felt really inspired. The pachucos loved the United States, but they did not want to give up their own culture. They created this subculture that was mixing all these backgrounds and creating this culture of resistance and their own identity. They were some of the first people who stood up for the Chicano community. When I wear a zoot suit I feel empowered, kind of like…

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