The Great Pretender

The multitalented, multifaceted Robert Lopez really is the man who would be king.


Bumbershoot, Mural Amphitheater, $20

1:30 p.m. Mon., Sept. 2



Green Room, 628-3151, Free

9 p.m. Mon., Sept. 9, 16, and 23

By the late 1980s Robert Lopez had, in a sense, seen and done it all. As a member of the legendary Zeros—the Mexican Ramones—Lopez shared a bill on the Germs’ first show, watched contemporaries X and the Go-Gos become famous, and even managed to raise Tom Waits’ hackles before the entire early L.A. punk scene crumbled around him.

When he emerged from his rock ‘n’ roll hangover around 1987, he found himself on Melrose Boulevard, working as a curator at a folk art gallery. It was there that inspiration struck.

“I was curating a show on Elvis—of folk artists doing Elvis pieces—and we had an Elvis impersonator at the opening,” recalls Lopez. “And he just wasn’t very good. But good enough to inspire me. I just thought, ‘I can do better than that.’ It was sort of like D.I.Y. Elvis-impersonating.”

Now, nearly two decades, 12 brilliantly conceived albums, and countless tours later, El Vez, the Mexican Elvis, is part of the pop culture lexicon—he’s appeared on The Weakest Link and has been an answer on Jeopardy!

While the rest of the world somberly observed the 25th anniversary of the King’s passing, Lopez not-so-quietly marked the 15th anniversary of his creation with an elaborate fireworks-and-fountains gala in Los Angeles earlier this month.

Ironically, Lopez is actually the only “impersonator” ever sanctioned to perform by the notoriously tough Elvis Presley Enterprises.

“I played in Tennessee at a club called Elvis Presley’s Memphis—it was like a Hard Rock Caf馭type place. It’s funny, when I arrived, the people who worked there said, ‘Half of us love you and half of us hate you’—which I thought was pretty good,” laughs Lopez. “It was nice to know they had a camp of progressives and conservatives.”

By contrast, Lopez has garnered nothing but uniform praise in Seattle, where he’s been living since March, donning his El Vez duds nightly for local audiences as one of the stars of Teatro ZinZanni.

“I’d worked with the people at [show producers] One Reel before, and they were fans,” says Lopez of his entr饠to the vaudeville-cum-dinner-theater revue. “I guess they thought, ‘How about putting him in this situation?’ They were expecting just a singer, but they’ve put me in a lot more things. My role has changed quite a bit since the beginning.”

Much of El Vez’s ZinZanni shtick is, in fact, culled from his normal stage act. That, combined with half a dozen outlandish costume changes, makes for a high camp hybrid—an unholy merger of Viva Las Vegas and Zorro the Gay Blade.

Lopez’s run with the show ends in early December, at which point he’ll take a couple months off before moving on to star in the San Francisco production of ZinZanni where he’ll take over for—get this—Joan Baez, in early 2003. Lopez plans a return to the Seattle show next fall.

In between, Lopez will release and tour behind his third Christmas album—following on the heels of Merry MeX-Mas and NoElVezS��I>. In addition to his own yuletide efforts, he’ll star—along with Mike Myers, Jason Priestly and others—in Dave Foley’s (Kids in the Hall, NewsRadio) forthcoming holiday special.

Lopez is no stranger to television; he was prominently featured in 2000’s Americanos!, an Edward James Olmos&-hosted HBO documentary focusing on the Latino experience in America. (The same year, he was also the subject of a full-length documentary called El Rey de Rock ‘n’ Roll).

While Lopez actually attended acting school in the late ’70s—along with classmates Sean Penn and Nicholas Cage—made his debut in an episode of Hunter in ’88, and was even set to star along- side himself in a Patty Duke&-type sitcom a few years back, he’s only recently started to consider acting as a viable second career.

“Music has always been more my thing,” he insists, “but if [acting] comes along, sure, I’ll pursue it.”

Lopez is pursuing one role with considerably more interest: Reverend El Vez. Remarkably, Lopez is now a licensed justice of the peace, conducting wedding ceremonies as his alter ego. His first was a celebrity affair, as he recently presided over the nuptials of longtime friend and L.A. punk pal Exene Cervenka.

“It was held on a gambling riverboat on the Mississippi River,” he laughs. “Exene’s band [the Original Sinners] had played the night before and they were all up ’til six in the morning partying. And then I arrived on a red-eye. So there wasn’t any time to meet or rehearse what the ceremony was going to be like. But they trusted me and it came out good; they were happy.”

Lopez is so taken with the idea, in fact, that he’s planning to take off the month of June from now on to conduct ceremonies all over the West Coast. “Well, this way I can be the preacher and the band. And if I do [weddings] near San Diego I can get my aunts to cater it—so you’ll get a full Mexican wedding.”

Aside from that promising sideline, and his upcoming Bumbershoot gig—which will feature his full backing band—Lopez plans on moonlighting with a September residency at downtown’s Green Room, where he and ZinZanni co-star Manuela Horn (and surprise guests) will perform in an intimate cabaret comedy setting.

“I know, it’s crazy, adding that to my schedule,” say Lopez, who already spends five nights a week working under the ZinZanni tent. “I guess I can’t help it. It’s in my blood.”