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July 31, 2014

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MUSIC:

‘Cuchi-cuchi’ returns to Las Vegas

The guitar-wielding, singularly named Charo begins a five-month engagement at Riviera

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Beyond the Sun

What’s Las Vegas without a little “cuchi-cuchi”?

It’s been almost four years since Charo last headlined a show here, getting the town shaking with her unrestrained energy.

The Latin dynamo returns Friday to start a five-month engagement at the Riviera.

She speaks enthusiastically about the upcoming show. She speaks enthusiastically about everything. Her transmission has only one speed — overdrive.

Although Charo has lived and worked in the United States for at least 40 years, she still mangles spoken English in a charming accent thicker than spun honey. She sounded like this in a recent phone interview:

“My show, the schedule date his you-lie tenth. Everrrrybody soojested that afterrrr the four of you-lie, always there is a little down in the tourist. But we half a family-orientated show.”

Translation: Her show debuts July 10 (Friday). Everybody suggested that tourism is down after the Fourth of July, but this might be a good time for a family show.

She will perform six nights a week at the Riviera until Christmas.

Before coming to Vegas, she had been performing in Mexico and Florida. After the Riviera run, she again will tour the country, hitting many Indian casinos. Because of all the touring, she says, she knows the United States better than she’ll ever know her native Spain.

“You give me a map of the United States and with my eyes closed I tell you where I am,” Charo says. “When I became an American citizen I knew more than perhaps any American about this country. I studied, like a trained parrot. One of the questions asked on the exam, I will never forget, was ‘What is ex post facto?’ I know that you probably don’t know, but I know.”

Charo was born in Murcia, Spain. She attended a Catholic convent. She began playing guitar at age 9 and received a scholarship to study at classical guitar legend Andres Segovia’s school in Madrid.

Her talent as a guitarist preceded her fame as the “cuchi-cuchi” girl. She recorded several flamenco and classical albums before being discovered by Xavier Cugat on Spanish television.

Charo wasn’t quite 16 when she began appearing in nightclubs with Cugat, whom she later married and divorced. Cugat capitalized on Charo’s youth, her good looks and the charisma that comes from her vitality onstage and off. Their managers wouldn’t let her play.

“I say, ‘Can I play the guitar?’ and they say, ‘No, you cuchi-cuchi.’ So, OK. My family came and we were very happy and I ‘cuchi-cuchi’ to the bank, but finally I put the foot down,” she says. “I decided it was time to introduce to the audience what I was trained for, classical and flamenco guitar. Before I couldn’t do it. I was too busy making money.”

She recorded “Guitar Passion,” an album of guitar instrumentals and Spanish-language ballads, in 1994.

Now the guitar is a big part of Charo’s performance. Her upcoming show at the Riviera will include a five-piece band and four male dancers.

“I will play a lot of guitar,” she says.

But it won’t all be about guitar. The show will include a lot of singing, dancing and comedy. And it will give her a chance to perform her latest single, “Espana Cani,” which reached No. 14 on the Billboard Dance Charts.

Because of her work with Disney, VH1 and other youth-oriented brands, she says young people know her and attend her shows.

“This is a family show,” she says. “It will be a fun, fun show with class, class.”

Charo says performing at the Rivera will be like a homecoming.

“I start in Las Vegas at a very young age,” she says. “My very first job here was at the Flamingo, and then the Sahara and then the Riviera. These three places I have in my mind special feelings for. It was a time when it was the real Las Vegas, with high rollers and gambling. The town was more gambling-oriented than it is now. I loved the showrooms.”

She says the showrooms at the Riviera, Flamingo and Sahara remind her of those days.

“The Riviera is a beautiful hotel,” Charo says. “I know it’s a little far away, but it is a traditional place. It is in the DNA of Las Vegas.”

She says she’s excited about returning to Vegas and her family in Los Angeles is happy as well.

“I wake up in the mornings and I’m already jumping because I am always excited about something,” she says. “My family is very happy to get rid of me for a while when I do Las Vegas because I never stop.”

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