If the Magic Mike Live Las Vegas red carpet is the sun, then I’m orbiting somewhere around Jupiter. Celebrities, like Channing Tatum and his wife Jenna, flash in and out of view. Tops of heads and patches of clothing tantalize the gathered fans, setting off a flurry of cell phones. From where I stand, it’s not even clear who’s posing for the wall of photographers. They are a black-clad fortress of professional indifference encircled by a moat of barriers.
Meanwhile, on this side of the velvet rope, it’s a full-on carnival. Opening night. Vegas VIPs are partying alongside tourists in that unique, once-a-season mix where everybody is on their A-game. There’s so much “whooo-hooo’ing” I get flashbacks to the capuchin monkey exhibit at the San Diego Zoo.
A trio of women stand front and center, stretching their phones over the stanchions to get the best shot. Klaryssa, Zerlina and Yvette have driven all the way from El Centro, California, to see Magic Mike Live.
Klaryssa, 27, shows me a photo of her group posing with Tatum on the Hard Rock Hotel casino floor. “We ran into him at brunch,” she exclaims. “See, I’m holding a to-go bag!”
The girls stand their ground while my friend Sarah and I head toward the showroom. Like a grocery store candy aisle, ticket holders must first pass through the Pleasure Bar. The menu invites me to “get drunk on pleasure.” I order a whiskey-Coke.
“These are pleasure cocktails,” the bartender demures, then adds, “we have a cocktail to spice things up with your lover.”
“Can you drink these cocktails?” I ask.
“No, but let me show you what we do have.” The bartender produces a selection of vibrators on a mirrored platter. I become hyper-aware of Sarah, an upright Midwesterner who’s never even seen Chippendales. On the car ride over, she’d wondered, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Now she’s being lectured on vibrating butt plugs.
The usher takes our tickets. I stop him and ask, “Can you buy drinks in there?”
“Of course,” he answers, looking at me funny. “This is Las Vegas!”
We descend into a reincarnated version of the basement nightclub Body English. Now it’s a theater-in-the-round, which offers countless points of contact between audience and performers. It’s a seven-ring circus of acrobatic singing, dancing, grinding men. I’ve spent many a night at Body English, but the atmosphere was never this fun.
“The safe word is ‘unicorn,’” proclaims the show host as male dancers give lap dances and fake dollars flutter down. “That’s real. Don’t be afraid to use it.” It’s the first time I’d ever heard “consent” discussed in a strip show.
The “plot” is (very) loosely inspired by the films, but don’t expect a man’s story. This show is all about women and how to empower them to please themselves. Finally, I thought, a feminist, multicultural male revue. This show was designed for all the millennial “snowflakes.” Like me ... and Sarah, who finds it to be smarter and better than expected. … And Klaryssa, Zerlina and Yvette, who are first in line for the 10 p.m. show.
“Do you feel like you need to change your panties before going to the afterparty,” Klaryssa asks, as we pass her on the way out.
I’m charmed by the endless joy and daring of tourists. They keep the bills paid. To play along, I say, “I hope you brought an extra pair in your purse.”
“It’s okay. I’m not wearing any panties.”
Magic Mike Live Las Vegas Wednesday-Sunday, 7:30 & 10 p.m., $44-$128. Hard Rock Hotel, 800-745-3000.