Las Vegas Sun

November 24, 2014

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Still shakin’

Charo is ageless. Really. No one seems to know for sure how old the "cuchie-cuchie" girl is a mystery she has fun with.

"People think I'm 105," she said. "I'm going to come out with a cream. 'If you are 105, use ...'"

Charo's words roll off her tongue at the speed of light. That, combined with her heavy Spanish accent, makes it a little difficult to understand her until you become accustomed to the cadence.

"I'm 49, for real," she said.

Let's see: subtract 49 from 2001 that's 1952. Which means if she struck up a relationship with her future husband, the late band leader Xavier Cugat, in 1966 she was only ... well, never mind.

Bottom line, age is irrelevant when it is applied to Charo, whose bottom line moves as fast today as it did when she was a teenage entertainment sensation, wiggling and uttering those immortal words, "cuchie-cuchie."

The phrase dates back to when she was 3 years old and had a dog named Cuchillo who wiggled when he was happy. Young Charo imitated him and said "como Cuchi, como Cuchi" ("like Cuchi, like Cuchi").

When she grew into her voluptuous body, the wiggle and the "cuchi" took on entirely different connotations.

Fans can judge for themselves how well the bombshell from Spain is holding up, regardless of her age. She is starring in and producing the show "Bravo" at The Venetian.

Charo was almost late for the show's debut two weeks ago, when tightened airport security nearly resulted in her not being allowed to leave the island of Antigua, where she was performing at a convention.

"My full name is Maria Rosario Pilar Martinez Molina Baeza," she said. "That's the name on my passport."

But her plane ticket just said, "Charo."

Security guards were not going to let her leave because of the difference in the names.

"We were calling everybody, even the governor of Antigua," Charo said. "Finally, at the last minute, they let me go."

She barely made it to her first performance in Las Vegas in 14 years. This is the city that practically launched her career as a teenager when she appeared at such hotels as Caesars Palace and Tropicana in the late 1960s.

"This is a brand-new production with fabulous costumes," Charo said, smiling a youthful grin. "Thank God, no dress fall down yet."

But there always appears to be that possibility.

She described "Bravo" as "crispy new. This show we want something new because I produce it. I want it to be authentic, completely authentic. So, when I say samba, it is authentic samba. When I say salsa, it is authentic salsa.

"I've got the champion salsa dancers of the world."

Exotic costumes; samba, salsa and flamenco dancers; the Argentine comedy team of Mario & Daniel -- and Charo. Can it be anymore Las Vegas than that?

Charo the comedian, Charo the singer, Charo the internationally acclaimed classical guitarist -- and Charo the soccer mom.

Aloha, cuchie-cuchie

It has been about 15 years since Charo and her husband/manager Kjell Rasten moved to the Hawaiian island of Kauai to raise their son Shel, who is 18 and attending USC.

"I wanted him to grow up in Hawaii. There is no discrimination. Everybody is 'aloha,' " Charo said.

Her son attended high school and she catered soccer teams and played host to Shel's many friends.

"My son was very popular in school," Charo said. "He is blonde, he has gorgeous lips ... He is very sexy, and he's not short like me. He's 6-2, and on the way up -- still growing. He has good body and he is strong.

"It came to a point, sometimes there be 20 to 30 kids in the house. They like me very much. In Hawaii, I being mamacita to Chinese kids, Hawaiian kids, Mexican kids, Canadian kids. Over there is a small world. I understand the young people."

She and her husband also bought a restaurant down the road from their house.

"We were drunk," she said.

The couple were in Kauai supervising the building of their home.

"We go for a walk around the beach and see this little building (restaurant) hanging down," Charo said. "We go in and they say they have pina coladas. I don't drink and I go there on an empty stomach and the owner say, 'Can I take your picture,' and then he give us a pina colada. All of a sudden, the restaurant is looking very beautiful.

"The lady (who owned the restaurant), they came from New Zealand, she said, 'Would you like to have another one?' and they bring it in. On the third drink she say, 'You know, we've got to go to New Zealand. My husband's sick. There they have (socialized medicine). Here is very expensive. Would you like to buy a restaurant?' We say, 'Sure, we buy it.' So we buy it. Sign the contract, go home and the next day we own the restaurant."

Charo has spent most of her time performing in Hawaii for the past 15 years, with occasional trips to the mainland.

While Charo and her husband still have their home and restaurant on Kauai, they recently began spending more time at a residence they own in Beverly Hills, Calif.

"Our son decided to attend USC because all his friends are going there," Charo said. "We said, 'Fine, OK, have a good time. Goodbye.' A week later we moved back to Beverly Hills."

Who would have thought the cuchie-cuchie girl would be a doting mom, a June Cleaver type?

"My son is a philosophy major. He's an idiot," Charo said with insincere criticism. "What can a philosophy major do? You go to a restaurant and say, 'I know philosophy,' and they say, 'Well then, you know how to clean the dishes and mop the floor.' "

She described her son as very sensitive.

"He cannot be a good businessman because he gives everything away," Charo said. "You give him $5 and if he finds somebody on the street who needs it, he gives it away. Whatever you give him, he will give it away. He's a beautiful person."

Charo says she is glad her son doesn't have to struggle the way she did.

"I am a survivor," she said. "I started when I was a tiny cucaracha."

Passion for guitar

Charo was born in Murcia, Spain. She attended a Catholic convent and began playing guitar at age 9.

At age 14 she received a musical scholarship to a school in Madrid operated by the late Andre Segovia, considered one of the top classical guitarists in the world.

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

Charo said she 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.

"I say, 'Can I play the guitar?' and they (her managers) say, 'No, you cuchie-cuchie.'

"So, OK. My family came and we were very happy and I 'cuchie-cuchie' to the bank, but finally I put the foot down.

"By 1995 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."

In 1995 she recorded the CD "Guitar Passion," which went platinum twice.

Now the guitar is a big part of Charo's her performance. She says it's what the audience wants.

"If there is one thing I love, is the audience," she said. "I don't want to make them tired. If somebody look at their watch during my show, I would die.

"To me, if the audience is having fun then the night is young."

And so is Charo.