At a certain point in his life, would-be Broadway star-cum-talent manager-cum-producer Dan Guerrero decided to dedicate himself to improving the depiction of Latinos in the media. In his one-man show “Gaytino!” — part of Center Theater Group’s “Solomania!” festival — he lands on a good way of putting forth such a positive image: He tells his own, upbeat story. This man has lived an extremely charmed life, and he offers up a quite charming depiction of it.
One-person shows often — maybe even usually — deal with identity politics, and since Guerrero is both gay and Mexican-American, the subject informs his life and therefore his story. But what’s nice about “Gaytino!” is how unfettered it is with obstacles or regrets. Did being Latino inhibit his performance career? Perhaps, but he soon went on to a great career as a talent manager instead. Was it hard, even lonely, growing up gay in East L.A.? Maybe it would have been, if he didn’t have a fantastic best friend.
In fact, the challenge Guerrero faced in creating a performance piece about his life was finding any real drama in it. What, no drug problem? No lover’s rejection followed by harrowing therapy? Not even a battle with poverty?
Nope. Just a tiny little bit of internalized bigotry as a child — he felt a little “less than,” “limited.” He got over it by watching Chita Rivera and Rita Moreno: “Two different women!” he says pointedly, with the sort of comic, offhanded reference to prejudice that works really throughout.
And just a touch of hesitation at coming out to his parents — “The frijoles are out of the bag,” his friend finally tells him, having done the deed on his behalf by telling Dan’s dad. His father, Lalo — a legendary singer known as the “father of Chicano music” — expresses his love and suggests they don’t tell his mom. She finds out years later when he brings home his lover, Richard; within minutes, she calls him her third son.
No, Guerrero’s not a tortured soul, nor does he need to use his one-man show as a form of therapy. Instead, it becomes pure nostalgia: a tour of 1950s East L.A.; a gay boy’s discovery of movie musicals — he saw “Oklahoma” on a school trip to the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood; a first vision of Ethel Merman onstage (“She was alive at the time,” he says in an ongoing refrain as he performs a bit from “Gypsy”); performing summer stock (“It was a sex pit with piano and drums”).
He drops names of the famous he managed — young Sarah Jessica Parker, for example.
He returned to L.A. in the ’80s and rediscovered his Latin-ness, working on Chicano-themed projects by choice and not by restriction.
The darker elements of the era are present, too, and they hit home: His lifelong best friend Carlos dies of AIDS after achieving success as a painter. The tough plight of migrant farm workers and the civil rights movement that followed plays a part, most prominently in reflection as we see footage of Cesar Chavez’s funeral. (Projected still photos, some with creative animation added, serve the piece well.)
Even at 65, Guerrero possesses the highly energetic presence of a man decades younger, and one would never guess from the polish with which he moves and the comfort with which he performs that he gave up his “singer-mover” career about four decades ago. He and director Diane Rodriguez execute the song-and-dance sequences to a T, splicing into them comic or biographical bits. They add even more joy to the proceedings.
“Gaytino!” sometimes descends into sentimentality, and it’s never really inspirational or deep. But for its 75-minute running time, it is most certainly fun.