Natazca Boon, who plays the female MC that guides the London show, tells me this feeling is completely designed from inception: “For Channing it was very important that his creative team was very heavily female; that would guide him to create this universe that feels good to watch.” Magic Mike’s choreographer and the show’s co-director is Alison Faulk, a long-term collaborator of Tatum’s. Nothing can quite prepare you for what’s going to happen at a Magic Mike show. The stage incarnation is an extraordinary choreography of bodies, acrobatics, lights and screams. It’s impossible to take everything in one go. In a regular show, there’s the stage and the audience. In Magic Mike Live, there’s the stage, ladder, balconies, plexiglass, bridges, acrobatics, water and an aerial number. The audience can take pictures and video of everything and anything, unusual for a West End show. Boon’s warm, constant interaction with the audience ushers things along and provides cues for the dancers, who, at certain key points, jump off the stage and into the audience, selecting women to dance with (or on) before moving on to the next. “The word ‘strip’ never gets spoken in the whole show,” Boon points out. The only, unspoken, rule is that only women wearing trousers can be taken on stage – and that’s only to save anyone any embarrassment when they’re being lifted up and delicately thrown around by the dancers. The Prosecco flows. The delighted shrieks are deafening. The day after seeing Magic Mike Live on the West End, I find a bright red unicorn dollar stuck inside my pocket; it’s the fake money given to attendees to throw at the performers.
As for the dancers, they are, first and foremost, expert performers but have also been selected to fit a sexy-but-sensitive mould. As Jack Manley, one of the original London dancers, tells BBC Culture, after much cajoling from his friends (“How much do you have to love yourself to go to a Magic Mike audition?”, he jokes), he initially replied to an Instagram ad that was looking for “sexy appealing males” who “love their mum”, which lead to multiple auditions culminating in an in-depth interview. Joel Ekperigin, who originally started in the Berlin show before joining the London one, recalls the audition process as unlike anything he’d ever experienced. There were dancers from all over the world, who were “confident within themselves and with a bit of grace to them,” he says.
Now, with Magic Mike’s Last Dance, the franchise has folded in on itself. “Before the third film was even a thought, Channing once described the live show as “the third movie”, Manley says – while the actual third and supposedly final movie functions as a kind of prequel to Magic Mike Live. When we meet Tatum’s Mike again, he’s pushing 40 and his custom furniture business has, like many others, been decimated by the pandemic. A chance encounter with uber-rich Maxandra Mendoza (Salma Hayek Pinault) turns into a $6,000 lap-dance-cum-sex-scene. The power dynamic is quickly established: Mike gets undressed, Maxandra keeps her jumpsuit on. He has the moves, but she has the money and, so, the power. She whisks him off to London and gifts him the opportunity to put on a live show that would channel and share the feeling she had when he danced for her.