Eduardo Alegría says he saw this coming. For the past few years, the Puerto Rican performer has been grappling with a certain fear for the future. Se Nos Fue La Mano, his 2015 full-length debut as Alegría Rampante, was inspired by an impending downfall, an era of darkness — and a subsequent call to arms.
“Se nos acercan cambios drásticos, sube la fiebre,” he warned on the album’s closer, “Alucinando al Máximo.” Call them premonitions, call it intuition – on November 8, those words, and a litany of other themes on the album, became too real.
On November 18 and 19, Alegría Rampante will perform at El Tapia, the historic Old San Juan theater first constructed in 1824. The show he and his band, plus an expanded crew — backup singers, special guests, to stage and lighting technicians — have planned is an amplified version of the album. If it wasn’t yet clear what Eduardo meant the deceptively breezy, actually dismal “Un Cuarto Más Pequeño,” this production will make it crystal.
“The whole show is so in tune with the moment; it’s ridiculous,” he says. “I feel like every time I open my mouth and I start saying something about the show…everything becomes inevitably like a metaphor for the current situation, for Trump-land and Rosselló-land. Because this album was created thinking that we were going to hit a spot like this. That’s what my album is about.”
Puerto Rico’s next governor, Ricardo Rosselló, is staunchly conservative. He’s anti-LGBT rights, and against gender perspective education. He also publicly renounced a still-fresh law allowing students to choose school uniforms based on gender, not sex. Like Trump, Roselló’s agenda sets in motion a dehumanizing ripple effect.
“I think people are going to have a very emotional experience because of circumstance, the circumstance of this show, the moment it’s being presented,” Eduardo says. “We’re all hurting really, really bad.”
But this won’t be a dour affair outright: There is an element of camp to everything Eduardo does, from the way he exaggerates gestures and intentionally over-acts, to the way his speech is peppered with the pithy comebacks and clever quips. “I’m just in a tragic state of mind,” Eduardo says, feigning a melodramatic half-laugh. While he’s widely known as the frontman of the landmark indie pop-rock band Superaquello, he also has an extensive background in theater and performance art. Throughout Alegría Rampante’s run, he’s often performed in drag.
On the album, though, with grand and extravagant the emotions of soaring numbers like “Cicero” and “El Recipiente/Tsunami,” as well as its numerous nods to theater, there was little room for cheekiness.
“I wouldn’t do that in an album, because then it would be an album that would be fun to listen to once or maybe a couple of times. I love Jesus Cristo Superstar, the Spanish cast album of Jesus Christ Superstar. It’s one of my favorite things in the universe — but I can’t listen to that shit every day. I’ll go nuts,” he says. “But when I feel like listening to it, I’ll die. But that’s not the kind of record I wanted to make; I wanted to make a record you could hear over and over again. And if the camp is too amped up…it could become novelty-ish. But live, there is an opportunity of bringing that out.”
With all he’s lined up for his two-night run at El Tapia, Eduardo is undoubtedly seizing that chance to showcase Se Nos Fue La Mano in a larger-than-life way. There’s a stretch of the show that Eduardo calls his “diva section,” where guests like Macha Colón and Fofe Abreu, and revered performance artist Freddie Mercado appear, one after another — it’s like a roll call of San Juan’s contemporary alternative arts greats.
“I’m a 48-year-old man; I like a big show. Let’s do it, let’s have a star-studded event,” he says. “Liza, Barbara, honey, when Sammy Davis Jr. hits the stage, people are going to flip out. I like that. It’s my way of having fun with that idea.”
Jokes aside, it’s true that camp does not preclude social or political commentary — just ask John Waters. And like some of the cringeworthy but message-bearing scenes of his films, Alegría Rampante’s show will employ varying degrees of disturbances. His targets: Conservatism and the religious right, the patriarchy, and the complacent citizen. The use of some props specifically, like a rifle, are still in question.
“I understand, I appreciate [concerns about using a rifle],” he notes. “But it makes me realize that I’m putting it there for disturbance…because of the fear that I feel at the moment. The fear that I had when I was making the record. I was thinking we are going to be in danger, we’re going to need to arm up. I’ve been thinking about this for years.”
At the root of Eduardo’s fright is the visibility of the trans and genderqueer communities. Increased visibility means heightened danger.
“[Visibility is] what we want, that’s what we want,” he says. “But I felt, oh boy, this is rough. This is going to be like a, “Whaaaat?” For people who don’t understand, for the mainstream, for the patriarchy…It became a very, very difficult issue. I feel so sad, so sad, about what’s happening, and so scared for my friends. Because, you know, now people want to push us back.”
By taking the stage at El Tapia, though, Eduardo is inherently doing his own pushing. In the current administration, especially in San Juan, he points out, the LGBTTIQ community is lucky to have allies. Thankfully, one of the most powerful among them, Mayor Carmen Yulín, was re-elected. But come January, she will have to answer to Rosselló.
“Las implicaciones políticas del show, I don’t know what it is,” Eduardo ponders. “But I think there’s a sadness, it almost [like] there’s a feeling of last dance kind of thing. There’s a feeling like, will we ever be able to put a show together like this again? How is our idea of culture going to change, you know, when the shit hits the fan?”
One reassurance, at least, is the existence of people like Eduardo Alegría — people who are already fighting back, and who encourage others to do the same.
On November 18 and 19, Alegría Rampante will perform at El Tapia. For more info, click here.