With World War II-era big-band rhythms and dance, East L.A. Classic Theatre's production of "Romeo and Juliet" gets a local, 1940s twist as it kicks off the summer-long "Ford Family Fun" performance series at Hollywood's John Anson Ford Amphitheatre on Saturday and Sunday.
Action-packed and aimed at young audiences, this abridged, professional production of Shakespeare's tragic tale of "star-cross'd" lovers, directed by Elina DeSantos, is set during the zoot suit era in Los Angeles, when young Latino men wearing distinctive zoot suits were targeted for violence and societal disdain.
"We didn't want to make it just a contemporary story," said actor Tony Plana, producer of the show and co-founder of the theater company. "We wanted to give it some historical distance. We chose the [wartime] '40s era because it was so volatile and that would give the play an interesting context to breathe in."
Plana pointed to "obvious parallels" between Shakespeare's warring Montagues and Capulets and the dynamics of current "territorial, racial and cultural balkanization, and people hating each other for no reason except they're different and there's a history of it."
Within the 20th century setting and the abbreviated time--the play will run one hour and 10 minutes, instead of about three hours--expect "action, fighting, dancing and '40s music--this thing moves," Plana said with a laugh.
However, the language will be faithful to Shakespeare, Plana stressed. "We want our kids to be exposed to the complexity of it, to the historical rootedness of it."
The East L.A. Classic Theatre company, which produces professional productions on the Cal State L.A. campus, began its school outreach program two years ago. After its premiere at the Ford, "Romeo and Juliet" will tour middle and high schools in Los Angeles County.
Other "Ford Family Fun" shows this summer: "A Little Mozart Now & Then," Los Angeles Mozart Orchestra (July 19, 10 a.m.); "Crazy for Dance," Dance Kaleidoscope (July 26, 10 a.m.); Joanie Bartels (July 27, 4:30 p.m.); Red Grammer (Aug. 3, 4:30 p.m.); Jazz Tap Ensemble Caravan Project (Aug. 16, 10 a.m.); Asian Youth Arts Festival (Aug. 17, 4:30 p.m.).
* "Romeo and Juliet," John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood Hills, Saturday, 10 a.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. $7. (800) 209-5277. (213) 658-4077.
Koncert a Week: In what has become an annual summer family event, "Peter Alsop's Kids Koncerts" launches its 10-week 1997 season at the rustic, outdoor Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum on Sunday with zany, crowd-pleasing singer-songwriter Dan Crow ("Welcome to Pooh Corner," "Milo & Otis").
Crow is just one of many children's entertainer favorites who will take center stage in the weekly changing lineup. Others include Linda Arnold, Barney Saltzberg, Dave Kinnoin, Stephen & Donny of Parachute Express and Alsop himself.
"I really wanted to have live performers who do stuff that uplifts kids, and who see things from kids' points of view," said Alsop, a singer, psychologist and educator whose own seriocomic family concerts spotlight kid concerns and anxieties.
The summer series came about for several reasons: Alsop wanted to encourage families to get the live performance habit; he wanted to make children's singers, who often labor in thankless venues such as malls, "feel cared for and respected"; and Alsop happens to be married to Ellen Geer, artistic director of the Theatricum Botanicum, where the stage, in "the dappled shade of the live oak trees and sycamores," was available.
The performance schedule: Dan Crow (Sunday), Tom Hunter (July 20), Peter Alsop (July 27), Linda Arnold (Aug. 3), Barney Saltzberg (Aug. 10), Parachute Express (sans Janice) (Aug. 17), Courtney Campbell (Aug. 24), Melora Marshall (Aug. 31), Karl Anthony (Sept. 7), Dave Kinnoin (Sept. 14).
* "Peter Alsop's Kids Koncerts," Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, Sundays, 11 a.m., through Sept. 14. $6.50; any five shows, $26. (310) 455-0499.