Magic Mike Live: How a lap-dancing show for women became the biggest sell-out show of the year

Camilla Tominey
Channing Tatum, the actor on whose life the show is loosely based - Getty Images Europe

Imagine a world where all women were empowered to ask for more… more from men, from sex, from entertainment… from everything.

With declarations like these, it is no wonder Channing Tatum has become the girlcrush of a generation of #metoo’ers who demand more from a night out than a swipe right and a sore head. 

As a stripper who became a Hollywood A-lister, Tatum has turned the showbiz gender stereotype on its head, which goes some way to explaining why Magic Mike - his “sophisticated” strip show for ladies who love to lust - has just become the biggest show in the West End.

Launched at the end of Novemeber to a 325-strong throng of screaming women, the 14-man abs-fest has already sold £8 million worth of tickets at the Hippodrome - becoming the Christmas go-to for a girls' night and the most successful show in London after Hamilton (which is staged in Victoria, so technically not classed as the West End).

The Leicester Square casino, which once hosted Houdini, has undergone a multi-million pound refit to accommodate the 90-minute celebration of masculinity, which sees strapping strippers recreate the “magic” of the original 2012 film starring Tatum, and its equally successful sequel Magic Mike XXL.

Loosely based on chiselled Tatum’s experiences as a 18-year-old stripper in Tampa, Florida, the stage show - which has enjoyed a hugely popular residency in Las Vegas - reimagines a “type of entertainment that has not evolved at all since the late 1970s.”

Indeed the opening scene is a homage to all that has been wrong about male strip shows for decades. The cliches are all there; dancers taking to the stage in the well-worn guise of policeman with their truncheons, fireman with exceptionally long hoses, etc. It is a cringier YMCA with a can of Anchor squirty thrown in. 

I am momentarily horrified, then even more so when a woman is plucked from the audience to sit on stage being humiliated. But then the gear shifts and she begins to have a conversation in her head with her imaginary friend - Tatum in voiceover - about how the situation could be made better if “men actually listened to women and gave them what they wanted”.

A magnet for all-female parties, men are also welcome at the London Hippodrome show Credit:  David M. Benett/ Getty Images Europe

What follows is 21st century woman’s apparent wishlist of sexual wants - from buff men disrobing from their expensive suits, cradling babies and singing love songs - a heavily choreographed extravaganza of near nakedness that according to choreographer Alison Faulk isn’t so much about ogling pecs, but admiring artistry.

Crucially, no penises are actually ever flashed, although audience members sitting in the front row should expect to be gyrated on by men in thongs - but only if they want to (in 2018 women reserve the right say no - even after they’ve shelled out for the tickets). 

“We imagined a world where sexuality was celebrated as art”, says Tatum, 38, in the programme, seemingly in tune with the thinking woman’s desire not to pay for the privilege of watching strangers indecently exposing themselves for an hour and a half. And at £125 a pop for a front row table, no one wants to be subjected to a poor man’s Full Monty, complete with mottled butt cheeks and bad breath.

“A world where people come to shows like ours with their friends and walk out with huge smiles on their faces, feeling powerful and free,” adds recently divorced Tatum - who has curiously been unlucky in love despite his global sex symbol status.

“I wanted to create a space where men really listened to women. Where all women could experience a place where just being themselves would be enough for every man in the room. I wanted to see what kind of creativity would emerge from men when they listened gave women what they wanted.”

What emerges is undoubtedly entertaining and one of the best fun nights London has to offer - with tickets already sold out until the end of March. Hence why it’s proving a magnet for all-female birthday parties and hen dos, although men - both gay and straight - are also more than welcome, such is the all-inclusive nature of the performance, which sees the multicultural cast perform trapeze acts, play instruments, bump and grind to hip hop and even tap-dance. On the night I go it is full of excitable women from all walks of life who like nothing better of an evening than unwinding with a large portion of beefcake. 

Not that in this era of equal opportunity we should be objectifying the cast - especially when the performers are part Adonis, part athlete, with one trained at the Royal Ballet School, another a committed vegan - all giving it their everything, six nights a week (no pun intended).

As Hippodrome CEO Simon Thomas told the Telegraph: “This show is in a category of one. There’s nothing else like it. Casinos are generally a male bastion but because we are a very controlled environment and we don’t allow any drunkenness it’s actually very safe. A show like this in such a female-friendly environment - it’s a heady mix. 

“My wife came to see the show and one of the strippers danced on her and she said afterwards the best thing about it was how nice he smelled. There’s nothing seedy about it whatsoever, it’s very classy.”

Thomas praised Tatum as being “instrumental” in the success of the London residency - which has already produced a 20 per cent increase in food and beverage sales at the casino. It’s quite something for a venue which until quite recently was rather down at heel, but is suddenly now much closer to its 1900 roots when it hosted a circus and variety show called Giddy Ostend starring a then unknown Charlie Chaplin.

Ellie Goulding and friends were in the front row for opening night Credit:  Ricky Vigil M/ GC Images

Producer Carl Pasbjerg, who has invested in both the Vegas and London shows, described it as a “high-class choreographed experience” that is a “antidote to the #metoo movement” which some have seen as ushering in a new era of censorship and repression. 

“The MC is a woman, she sets out the rules of engagement and women can just say no if they don’t want to - that’s how it should be.”

Ellie Goulding certainly appeared to agree as she and her mates were “entertained” at a front row table on the opening night. To quote the Love Me Like You Do singer, what are you waiting for?

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