MAR 21, 2008 3:32 PM

Gay, Chicano and Proud

Dan Guerrero stands alone on the Schoenberg Auditorium stage, engaging the audience in a roller-coaster ride of emotions as he reveals details about a father-son relationship and a much-treasured childhood friendship.

In his one-man show, "¡Gaytino!," Guerrero traces his extraordinary life's journey — from East Los Angeles in the '50s to New York in the '60s and '70s — through memories and song. The 75-minute autobiographical play gives insight into decades of Chicano history and the gay experience from a unique and personal perspective.

Called "a lovable wit . . . infectious lunacy!" by the Los Angeles Times, the hit show is yet another success for a man who has had quite a storied career in entertainment. Add academia to his list of accomplishments, as Guerrero has just completed his tenure as the 2007-2008 Distinguished Community Scholar in the César E. Chávez Chicana/o Studies Department.

In June, Guerrero will take "¡Gaytino!" to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., although he does not promote it as his story. "I wrote it to celebrate my dad and my best friend growing up," he said. "Now they are both gone, and I don't want people to forget them."

His father was Lalo Guerrero, known to many as "the father of Chicano music." And although Guerrero considers his father a Chicano hero, there was a time when he wished to avoid growing up in Lalo's shadow, moving at the age of 19 from East L.A. — where his father was well-known — to New York. There, young Dan was able to establish his career, first as a performer and later as a successful Broadway talent agent whose clients included actresses Sarah Jessica Parker and Fran Drescher.

Twenty years later, he returned to Los Angeles to "shape more positive Latino images in media" as a casting director, writer, producer and director. "I like variety — I get bored with things," Guerrero explained. Ironically, his father's career had been rather quiet, but when Dan moved back in the '80s and started producing and directing for the Latino market, people reacquainted themselves with Lalo’s music.

"[My dad] often said I'm the one who resurrected his career," Guerrero said. "People were studying him in Chicano studies, and then of course when he got the National Medal of Arts from the White House, that catapulted him to another level, so he became this icon."

As a gay Chicano, Guerrero never experienced opposition from his family. "They were totally accepting — it was never an issue," he said. He met his partner, Richard, in New York City, and the two have been together for 28 years. "My family loves my partner," Guerrero said. "My mother used to call him son number three."

Hailed by Hispanic magazine as "one of the 25 most powerful Latinos in Hollywood," Guerrero was invited to teach at UCLA during the Winter Quarter by Professor Alicia Gaspar de Alba, chair of the Chávez Department of Chicana/o Studies. "I knew I could learn from young people, and I felt I had something to teach them," Guerrero said.

At the end of the quarter, he assigned his students to perform a 10-minute autobiographical piece they had written in front of family, friends and other audience members. "It's about finding your voice," Guerrero said. "That's why the course is called 'Performance and the Power of One.' One voice can make a difference."