Charo hasn’t stopped moving. The jeweled fringe of her silver mini-dress catches up when it can, but that’s rare for a woman whose legs trump even the rhythmically pulsating chevron lights behind her. Watching her sing Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” so naturally, as if it’s hers, you suddenly thank God for Vegas.
I saw her twice at the Riviera—totally meta, two ground zeroes for '70s entertainment. I may as well have been sailing away on The Love Boat, adrift in a reality that would soon land me on Fantasy Island. So much of her is wrapped in memory, old talk shows and Hollywood comedy that resonated so well in the black-and-white tiger-print seats of the Riv showroom.
Returning to a Las Vegas stage only a week after the implosion of part of the Riviera, Charo killed it at the South Point Showroom on June 24, a one-woman force commanding an audience through song, dance, stories, comedy, classical Flamenco recital, and art and historical references dripping in pure sex and “cuchi-cuchi” pelvic thrusts—and not just in an old-school Vegas way. Generations removed from the teen starlets of pop music, she’s livelier, freer, funnier, campier and sexier, in a show that’s been playing on repeat for five decades but polished and refreshed each time.
In her 60s (though nobody knows for sure), she owns it, flaunts it, sells it. The girl from Murcia, Spain, is now a woman but still the same—thus the plastic surgery and fitness health jokes—only stronger. Introducing herself by her full name—María del Rosario Mercedes Pilar Martínez Molina Baeza—gets a laugh as much as when she plays up broken English, in a time when it’s not politically correct to play that up. Her catchphrases are those the drag culture would love and political correctness would hate. But her lines—"Please don’t misconscrew me” and “If I no good the sheep is going to hit the fence,” mixed with a little “Now I speak so good, people think I born in Mississippi”—still work because she does, and hard, too. She’s a brand, a gay icon, an LGBT supporter and animal-rights activist who celebrates her past and present in such a flamboyant way, you wonder why the mostly senior audience is just sitting still. Perhaps they’re transfixed? But she manages to get them up and smiling when she dances in the aisles, and later gives me the gift of a lifetime.
After performing ABBA’s “Fernando” and “Chiquitita,” Spanish rhythms with Flamenco dancers, she pointed to me, the one up front who couldn’t sit still and said, “I love you.” I knew Captain Stubing was fictional, that Johnny Carson is now a memory and the '70s are long over. But this was the present and Charo pulled me in. She blew our minds with her classical guitar work and tantalized us with her energy, proving she will never be only from the past.
After almost every song, she asked us, “Do you like it?” Yes, Charo, we do.