Limited Run Workshop Production
Conceived and Directed by Jorge B. Merced
Musical Director Desmar Guevara
Backed by a 5- piece band, Parrots at the Pagoda is a drag origins story where five queer youths play out their shared obsession with Latin music giant Tito Rodríguez and his lesser-known brother Johnny Rodríguez, standout musician, pioneering drag artist, and owner of legendary El Cotorrito club in Puerto Rico.
ABOUT TITO: Tito Rodríguez was a Puerto Rican singer and bandleader often regarded as one of the pioneers of Latin music in the United States. He started his career singing under the tutelage of his brother, Johnny Rodríguez. In the 1940s, both moved to New York, where Tito worked as a percussionist in several popular rhumba ensembles, before directing his own group to great success during the 1950s. His most prolific years coincided with the peak of the mambo and cha-cha-cha dance craze. He also recorded boleros, sones, guarachas and pachangas. Rodríguez is known by many fans as “El Inolvidable” (The Unforgettable One), a moniker based on one of his most popular songs, a bolero written by Cuban composer Julio Gutiérrez.
In New York while performing with the orchestra of José Curbelo at the China Doll Cabaret, Tito met a young Japanese chorus girl by the name of Tobi Kei (b. Takeko Kunimatsu), who eventually became his wife.
ABOUT JOHNNY: Johnny Rodriguez was a Puerto Rican singer and composer, and one of the pioneers of radio in Puerto Rico. Many consider him to be the precursor of trio music in the island. At the pinnacle of his career, Johnny was possibly the highest-paid Latin artist in New York City, the first to have a radio spot on the CBS network and the first Puerto Rican artist to appear on North American television.
Regardless of his extensive career, for some he is merely iconic singer Tito Rodriguez’s older brother. But for many he is also dearly known for being the regent of El Cotorrito, the nightclub dedicated to cross-dressing that he founded in 1960. He is also regarded as one of the first drag artists in Puerto Rico.
THE PAGODA: When Tito Rodríguez returned to Puerto Rico in 1966, he commissioned a Japanese-style house in Ocean Park, Santurce, for his wife and family. While living there, he launched some of his most memorable projects, such as his own television show called “El Show de Tito Rodríguez”. Among the guest stars that appeared on his show were Sammy Davis, Jr., Tony Bennett, Shirley Bassey, Roberto Clemente and Orlando Cepeda. Tito’s Pagoda became a staple of local culture as well as a testimony of his love for his wife and his island.