It all started with Uncle Tony.
In summer 1989, Tony Hassan opened a Detroit agency to book strippers for local bachelor blowouts. By the time his shy nephew, Myles Hass, finished high school two decades later, the little company, Erotic Image (“give the gift that unwraps itself”), was a scorching success — so much so that Hass hatched a spinoff plan.
Hass spotted bachelorette parties as a growing market for male strippers. (Credit “Sex and the City.”) And he started to fantasise: What about creating a full-fledged male revue? Competing with the bow-tie-wearing Chippendales or the globe-trotting Thunder From Down Under was too much to dream. But he could probably book Michigan clubs. Detroit. Grand Rapids. Maybe even Kalamazoo.
“Something quality, with real showmanship,” Hass told me over drinks at the W Hollywood hotel recently. “Not a traveling group of man whores.”
His publicist, seated beside him, shifted uncomfortably, but Hass, 28, has nothing to be embarrassed about. Last year, his touring revue, Magic Men Live, sold roughly US$5 million worth of tickets at 148 shows in North America. Hass, who will introduce a new-and-improved Magic Men on Tuesday in Rapid City, South Dakota, thinks attendance could double in the coming years.
Now that is a business with legs.
“I can’t believe it, either, to be honest with you,” said Hass, who moved to Los Angeles from Detroit a few months ago. “When we started out, we were literally driving our own cars, four guys to a vehicle, sleeping on each other in uncomfortable positions.” He added: “I started this company while living with my parents. From my childhood bedroom. Now women arrive by the thousands. It’s like, ‘Here we go, boys!'”
As it turns out, and I did some serious investigating here, this thong-snapping corner of show business is booming. Interest has been fuelled by the “Magic Mike” male stripper movies — no relation to Magic Men — and the “Fifty Shades of Grey” books, films and products, which have prompted women in more conservative areas (and audiences are 99 percent women, Hass said) to more openly enjoy watching guys gyrate onstage.
Myles Hass, right, the producer of Magic Men, with Gamboa, a dancer.
The Chippendales are not only still grinding away in Las Vegas (“trou-dropping goodness,” the website promises). Their global tours also attract a growing audience; roughly 2 million people (again, mostly women) went to see a Chippendales show last year, according to Michael Caprio, a spokesman. Competitors include Thunder From Down Under and Hunk-O-Mania.
The creation of Black Magic Live, a new multiracial revue, was chronicled on a Lifetime reality show in January that starred Vivica A. Fox. (She was pilloried for claiming gay men are not a target audience — “hell no,” she said — leading to a public mea culpa.)
And another mainstream star, Channing Tatum, is joining the fray. His male revue, Magic Mike Live, took up residency at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas late last month. Tatum, a force behind the “Magic Mike” movies, served as one of the revue’s directors.
Devon Geter, a dancer.
A publicist for Magic Mike Live declined interview requests, so it’s difficult to know how serious of a production it is. The Las Vegas Review-Journal said it included “acrobatic aerialism on harnesses.” (Sorry, ladies — and gents! — Tatum will not disrobe in it. But he does know how: He once made a living in a Florida revue called Male Encounter.)
You may think that the young upstart of Magic Men would be sweating Magic Mike’s arrival. After all, Hass — even in his no-longer-shy, worked-out state — is just a guy from Detroit, while Tatum has all the resources of a major celebrity.
Hass also openly trades on the “Magic Mike” films, billing his Magic Men revue as “the first stage production to bring the phenomenon of ‘Magic Mike,’ ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and others to life with a high-energy experience.” Among the Magic Men merchandise that Hass sells is a US$25 shirt with the words “Alright, alright, alriiiight,” a phrase associated with Matthew McConaughey, who starred in “Magic Mike,” which was released in 2012 and took in US$167 million, spawning a 2015 sequel.
Troy, another Magic Men dancer.
But Hass does not seem worried.
“They will do their thing, and we will do ours,” he said. “I don’t see us as competing. We tour. They stay in Vegas.” His new Magic Men show, he added, “has nothing to do with those movies except for us paying our respects to them.” Hass declined to say how “Magic Mike” would be incorporated into his revamped show. “He wants to be able to surprise the fans,” his publicist, Andy Keown, wrote in an email.
Despite different packaging and a few unique niches — the Chippendales also sing, for instance — these shows are fairly interchangeable. A striptease is a striptease. Just switch out the abs, put on some dance music and add fake fog.
“Everyone who is doing this now is just copying what we originated,” Caprio said. (For the record, he added, the Chippendales have brand cachet that others lack, pointing to the casting of Chippendales dancers in the Syfy channel’s “Sharknado 4.” I told him I had missed that one. Caprio sent me to Google with these instructions: “Search for Chippendales and crotch fight.”)
Hass, who arrived for our interview wearing a leather jacket and a backward baseball hat, has a boyish charm and manscaped eyebrows. He performs in Magic Men as the emcee, warming up the crowd and introducing dancers who go by names like Cowboy Christian and Boy Toy Troy. He employs 25 people, including 10 dancers, and tours with two sleeper buses and an 18-wheeler to carry sound and lighting equipment.
Part of his success appears to come from a savvy use of geography: Magic Men mostly visits smaller cities, bringing a style of entertainment not often seen in spots like Bismarck, North Dakota, and Owensboro, Kentucky. Troupe members regularly interact with fans on Snapchat and Instagram. Magic Men has 1.1 million followers on Facebook; Chippendales has about 803,300.
“One of my friends was following them on Snapchat, and she kind of got me hooked,” Johnelle Allen, 28, told me by phone from her home in Albuquerque. Allen, a single mother, has been to five Magic Men shows over the past year, posting about her experiences online and trading messages with the dancers on Snapchat.
“You wouldn’t think they would be down-to-earth, but they are,” she said. “They make us feel like we’re all friends.”
Allen said she enjoyed the escape that Magic Men performances provided from her everyday life. Watching the men strip down to “the smallest boxer briefs you have ever seen in your life” is less titillating than funny, she said. At one of the last performances she saw, a dancer started his routine wearing a furry, full-body Elmo costume. Putting a “Sesame Street” character into a sexually charged setting, she said, made the audience really hoot and howl.
But wait. Five performances over the past year?
“They have multiple stops in one area, so we also went to see them in Amarillo and El Paso,” she said. “It’s like a boy band.”
Except without as many clothes.
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