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October 22, 2014

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REVIEW:

Playful and ageless, Charo a sultry sensation still

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Leila Navidi

Charo does a little audience interaction in a performance Wednesday at the Riviera. In the show, the Spanish-born performer embraces her caricature.

Charo

Charo performs at the Riviera in Las Vegas on Wednesday, July 15, 2009.
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If You Go

  • What: “Charo in Concert: A Musical Sensation”
  • When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Monday
  • Where: Riviera, third floor showroom
  • Admission: $49.95-$69.95; 794-9433, rivierahotel.com
  • Running time: About 80 minutes
  • Audience advisory: Do what Charo tells you; racy language (but mostly unintelligible)

Beyond the Sun

There is a framed black-and-white photograph of Charo on the wall at the Riviera. It is dated 1982.

That was 27 years ago. Charo somehow looks even better now.

How old is Charo?

Some say she made a deal with the devil to avoid aging entirely. A Las Vegas bartender says she claims 58, but he knows her to be 68, which has been officially confirmed by documents in her birthplace of Murcia, Spain. Others have reported that she had her age legally lowered by 10 years — the amount of time she was married to then-60-year-old bandleader Xavier Cugat before divorcing him and becoming an American citizen.

It is whispered that images of a tiny, whirling blond figure have been discerned in cave paintings in Western Europe. We may just have to wait for carbon dating to establish the facts.

Judging solely from Charo’s astonishing performance at the Riviera — she’s here for a five-month run — let’s just call her ageless, timeless, eternal.

“I am inside of your minds right now,” Charo says at one point, pretending to do a group mind-reading. “I know what you are thinking: ‘I wonder — how old is that (woman)?’ ”

From the moment she materializes onstage, lit in fiery colors, skittering on heels like a droplet on a hot skillet, a hummingbird on diet pills, a volcano of messy blond hair crowned with a Shih Tzu topknot, poured into a candy apple red tinsel mini-dress that looks like a used-car dealer’s display, it’s clear that this incarnation of her act has more energy than several other shows on the Strip combined.

The she starts screaming. “BUENOS NOCHES! COMO ESTAN? Do you speak English? Me, too!” she yells, and everyone laughs, as Charo’s syllable-intensive Spanglish is an integral part of her instantly lovable, enjoyably oversized persona.

“Now I speak so good, people think I born in Missipeepee,” she says at one point, later confiding that she turned down “Dancing With the Stars.”

“You know why? I don’t like Bruno. His Eeeenglish sucks!”

(A dancing tip from Charo: “Hold you partner tight-tight-tight, like a-spooning. But be careful — but because a-spooning leads to a-forking.”)

“DO YOU LIKE EEEEET?” she shrieks. “SHAKE YOUR BUTT! SHAKE IT!” she shrieks in lieu of taking a breath, shaking it (all of it) while singing pumped-up, flamenco-techno-Eurodisco songs, including her recent disco hit “Espana Cani.”

At times it’s apparent that she’s singing along to a prerecorded vocal track. But who cares? She’s more fun than a barrelful of Britneys.

“If I collapse, don’t give me CPR,” she tells us. “I need you to come down and release the zipper right here. We have a deal?”

Occasionally she’ll leap off the stage and prowl the audience like a wildcat — she’s way beyond cougar.

(When Charo pounces: Don’t play dead. Do whatever she says. If she sits on you or attacks your face or commands you to dance, just do it.)

Charo has built a multi-decade international stage-TV-recording career by essentially performing a drag performance of herself. It’s campy, kitschy and yes cuchi-cuchi, and Charo cheerfully (always cheerfully) acknowledges the self-caricature.

“I was typecast,” she tells the audience about her experience with American TV, which used her, albeit affectionately, as a one-note joke on sitcoms and variety shows. A classically trained guitarist (famously taught by Andres Segovia himself), she says she begged record executives to let her make an album of flamenco guitar.

“They told me I am going to get broke,” Charo recalls. “And I tell them, if I get broke I always can be an English teacher.”

Changing into a sparkly black tuxedo, Charo demonstrates serious instrumental chops on a nylon-string guitar, performing (pumped-up, discofied) adaptations of Ravel’s “Bolero” and Joaquin Rodrigo’s rippling, splashing Concierto de Aranjuez.

She’s generous in her acknowledgment of her dancers, who remain dignified and impressive while doing a Vegas-ized version of flamenco, the men bare-chested beneath puffy shirts and bolero jackets, the women gorgeous in flamenco dresses with peacock trains in amethyst and emerald.

Charo showcases a solo dancer, flamenco sensation and “So You Think You Can Dance?” contestant Timo Nunez, who may just be the single hottest man performing on the Strip. The Nureyev of flamenco, Nunez pounds out the sexualized staccato rhythms, like an impeccable drum solo.

The Riviera has found the perfectly retro-ironic spot for this show, with booths and chairs upholstered in a wild zebra print, the room pre-fogged to created the ambience of an intimate, old-school smoky Vegas showroom.

The only thing that could take this show even more over-the-top is if the Riviera bumped the Russian skaters, moved Charo downstairs and put her on ice. (Everything’s better on ice.)

As to the perplexing question of Charo’s age and energy, it’s best left to historians and biologists of the future.

The rest of us will just say, “I’ll have what she’s having.”

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