When the ancient Greek storyteller Aesop presented his fable "The Lion and the Mouse" for audiences in the 6th century BC, it is safe to assume the Lion character did not have a Bronx accent.
But that didn't stop David Gonzalez from having his Lion speak in street slang and rap (imagine lyrics like "You can't help me, I'm big and bad / Get out of here mouse, you're making me mad," over a heavy bass beat).
"I tell classic stories with a lot of funk," says the New York-based storyteller, who will perform "Aesop Bops!," a collection of classic fables reinvented for contemporary audiences, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Saturday. It will start the new season of Pillow Theatre, the Music Center's free, family-friendly series.
"There is a lot of laughter, a lot of rhythm, a lot of rhyme, and parents get treated to some double-entendres and sophisticated sidebars," Gonzalez says.
In addition to a rapping lion, "Aesop Bops!" features an investment-savvy fisherman in "The Fisherman and his Wife" and a trash-talking turtle in "The Turtle's Shell."
The whole idea is to keep the kids engaged while keeping the parents interested as well -- no easy feat, Gonzalez says.
"It's essentially for the kids, but it's really important that the entire audience journey with me," he says. "If there are a few dead weights around, it is a mood killer, and a 3-year-old will pick up on that."
Named for the big, colorful pillows that serve as seating for young theatergoers, Pillow Theatre is geared toward the 3- to 6-year-old crowd. This season, the lineup includes the L.A.-based company Art of Puppets and Marionettes on Jan. 24; the Hudson Vagabond Puppets from upstate New York on Feb. 28; and ZunZun, a husband-and-wife duo who play music from the South American rain forest, on April 25. This Saturday, paper artist Eiko Amano will lead a visual arts workshop after Gonzalez's performance.
Of course, theater for toddlers proves tricky no matter how comfy the seating, says Michael Solomon, managing director for education at the Music Center.
"It doesn't matter how good it is, if it's longer than 30 minutes at that age, they can't sit through it," he says.
But that challenge is right up Gonzalez's alley. Growing up in the Bronx, Gonzalez got turned on to the performing arts at age 7, when his uncle made him a puppet theater. In his 20s, Gonzalez studied world myths and received a doctorate in music therapy from New York University. But PhDs aside, Gonzalez says it is Aesop's timeless tales -- told with a modern sensibility -- that captivate audiences.
"I'm very faithful to what I call the architecture of the story," he says. "Another metaphor that I use is the mannequin of the story. There is an essential character to the story; we storytellers clothe that mannequin in a style."
Where: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Grand Hall, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.
When: 10 and 11 a.m. Saturday
Contact: (213) 972-8000, www.musiccenter.org