Charo: A Musical Sensation

Charo: A Musical Sensation
Riviera Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas



Some 35 years ago when my partner was dancing with Liza Minnelli, our home away from home was often the once shiny-bright Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas. It was a tremendously hot spot back then, full of people at least pretending to have a good time at perhaps the glitziest, busiest, lightbulb-iest hotel anywhere in town.

Heading to the Riviera today is a bit disarming, as the action has moved south on the Strip and many of all those old historic properties around the place, like the Sands and the Stardust and the Frontier, have been blown to smithereens over the years of “progress.” The Riviera’s once jam-packed casino is now—maybe even more so because of our country’s current economic slump—something of a ghost town. You could almost see the tumbleweeds drifting across the nearly empty casino floor and the restaurants? Well, let me tell you of our experience last month, keeping in mind we did go there on a Monday night in the dead of Nevada’s triple-digit summer.

In the early 70s during the Liza days, we would spend a lot of time hanging out by the hotel pool, which is adjacent to Kady’s, the Riviera’s 24-hour coffee shop, a place that in those days let us in wearing our poolside speedos (you know, the ones I could fit over my left leg today). We journeyed to the Riviera on this trip early enough to explore my once-familiar “home” and have a nice dinner before heading upstairs to the old La Cage Theatre to see the brand new show there starring Charo, another blast from the past. We soon found that Kady’s was literally the only restaurant open that night in the entire hotel.

By the time we were seated on wedding-banquet-style chairs down front at La Cage to experience a glimpse of Charo’s new permanent show there, which has just debuted in the room and plans to stay for the duration, and after having to trek to the back of the showroom to get out own drinks served in plastic cups, I was sufficiently depressed. Lord knows I feel obsolete enough already these days without seeing the once-hopping Riviera turned into a crumbling relic as well.

I don’t know what I expected from Charo: A Musical Sensation, but it took the entertainer about two minutes to turn my evening around. Of course, the age of the former María Rosario Pilar Martínez Molina Moquiere de les Esperades Santa Ana Romanguera y de la Najosa Rasten is something of an enduring mystery—official birth records in Murcia, Spain indicate she was born in 1941, but Charo insists she actually was born in 1951 and her parents allowed her to falsify her age to marry 66-year-old band leader Xavier Cugat when she was 15—but once this amazingly youthful performer hits the stage, whether she’s five years younger than me or five years older is hardly relevant either way.

Clearly, somewhere in some hidden and forgotten well-locked closet, there’s a portrait of Charo really going to hell.

Charo enters the stage wearing an extremely short, extremely low-cut red sequined gown dripping in fringe and pushing her amazingly impressive tatas into a gravity-defying profile that could be the envy of Holly Madison. She launches into her music, including a spirited performance of her 2008 dance mix single “España Cañi,” with all the signature cuchi-cuchi she exhibited when I was a teenager (a fact that further leaves her true age a question mark for me), including new versions of many popular songs accented by dance moves usually attempted by people a third of her age, whatever that may be.

Peppered with long, wonderfully inappropriate stand-up comedy (some understandable only by the house’s many Spanish-speaking audience members) poking fun at everything, especially herself, Charo’s thick accent gets thicker with each rampant one-liner—many dealing with questions about her own encounters with the quirks of love, international fame and, of course, plastic surgery. “My advice to peoples who wants to go under the knife iz to find the bestest doctor yous can find.” Listen up, folks. I suspect his lady knows what she’s talking about.


Charo is backed in her bright and charming new show by a truly dynamic band and five exquisitely talented dancers, the initial four performers able to segue from salsa to tango to Club LAX stylings without a moment’s hesitation. And as good as this quartet (plus their star attraction) is at breaking into traditional Flamenco moves, Charo has saved an extra-special attraction for the kicker. When international Spanish Flamenco star Timo Nuñez takes the stage to join the others, glisteningly shirtless and dressed only in tight black leather pants, Charo: A Musical Sensation becomes even more sensational.

But the really indelible part of Charo’s new stage turn at the Riviera is the second half. After she had vacated the stage temporarily to change, leaving behind the highly worthy Nuñez and company to do the entertaining (and prove they could succeed in a show all their own), she returns dressed in a shimmering black sequined tux to sit centerstage on a simple stool. She then grabs her own guitar and finishes her performance by playing selections from her 2005 album Charo and Guitar, knocking out those in attendance with her remarkably facile mastery of the classical guitar—her dexterity shown in even greater detail on huge projections on either side of the stage.

See, Charo at this point quietly informs her audience she studied from age 9 to 16 with Andres Segovia himself while residing in Murcia, a feat, depending on which of her birthdates is correct, that could be even more extraordinary. Why, Charo could be the first person in history to study with a legendary musical hero after he had already shuffled off his mortal coil. Where are the SyFy’s Channel’s Ghosthunters when you need them?

Still, as a result of her consummate musical skill, no matter whether her extensive training with the great master took place posthumously or in the flesh, Charo was named twice named “Best Flamenco Guitarist” by Guitar Player Magazine’s reader’s poll and the performer has often stated in interviews that one of her biggest regrets has always been, because of the flamboyant stage presence that has earned her the big bucks and a place in entertainment history, she has been overlooked through her career as a serious guitarist. For me, after seeing her perform on this once-glamorous stage brought instantly back to its former life with her talents and unstoppable energy, I promise I for one will forevermore take her dead seriously.

Still, one early moment in the first disco-y section of Charo: A Musical Sensation, before her classical Segovia training and incredibly nimble fingers left us all speechless, proved for me the most memorable part of the evening for another reason: As Charo left the stage to join her fans in the audience during a raucous, rousing rendition of “Please Don't Stop The Music,” she immediately came directly over to me and my friend Travis, lip-synching the Rihana cover right into my surely surprised and severely reddened face.

I don’t know if Charo realized my fascination was in checking for wrinkles and scars with her face as up-close-and-personal as it was (my report: smooth as a baby’s derriere) or whether it was standard practice at this point in her show to do such a thing, but she soon grabbed my face and smothered it between her bulging boobies, leaving me with sequin burns on my cheeks for the rest of my week in Vegas. The petite star then climbed onto Travis’ chair, placing one leg between his legs and the other on his right thigh, grinding her… er… private Part directly into his equally stunned face.

Yes, that was indeed an indelible moment for us in Charo: A Musical Sensation, but it was also kind of a wasted effort, too, considering us two Travis-es were her target. Now, if she had instead sent Timo Nuñez down into the first row to perform such a brazenly intimate action, it might have been another story altogether.  

Charo: A Musical Sensation plays indefinitely at the Riviera, 2901 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas; for tickets, call 702.794.9433.

TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER teaches acting and theatre/film history at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus at Universal Studios. He has been writing about LA theatre since 1987, including 12 years for BackStage, a 23-year tenure as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today, and currently for As an actor, he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Best Actor Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Nasty Little Secrets at Theatre/Theater and he has also been honored with a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in Of Mice and Men at the Egyptian Arena, four Maddy Awards, a Award, both NAACP and GLAAD Award nominations, and six acting nominations from LA Weekly. Regionally, he won the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in Fifth of July; three awards for his direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in Equus; was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Oscar & Speranza; toured as Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago; and he has traveled three times to New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, opening the fest in 2003 as Williams himself in Lament for the Moths and since returning to appear in An Ode to Tennessee and opposite Karen Kondazian as A Witch and a Bitch. Never one to suffer from typecasting, Travis’ most recent LA performance, as Rodney in The Katrina Comedy Fest, netted the cast a Best Ensemble Sage Award from ArtsInLA. He has also been seen as Wynchell in the world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder and Frank in Charles Mee’s Summertime at The Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Giuseppe “The Florist” Givola in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for Classical Theatre Lab, Ftatateeta in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Lillian, Cheswick in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Rubicon in Ventura, Pete Dye in the world premiere of Stranger at the Bootleg (LA Weekly Award nomination), Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena, the Witch of Capri in Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Fountain, and Dr. Van Helsing in The House of Besarab at the Hollywood American Legion Theatre. As a writer, he has also been a frequent contributor to several national magazines and five of his plays have been produced in LA. His first, Surprise Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay with director Jerry Turner, became a feature film with Travis playing opposite John Brotherton, Luke Eberl, Deborah Shelton and Mary Jo Catlett. His first novel, Waiting for Walk, was completed in 2005, put in a desk drawer, and the ever-slothful, ever-deluded, ever-entitled Travis can’t figure out why no one has magically found it yet and published the goddam thing.