How Las Vegas’ ‘Magic Mike Live’ inspired the franchise’s third feature film

‘Magic Mike Live’
Jerry Metellus / Courtesy

The grand-opening celebration of Magic Mike Live at Sahara Las Vegas in September 2021 was quite the party. After the show, in the brand-new custom theater—in which onetime pop idol Debbie Gibson joined in for a quick song atop a piano—the cast, crew and audience adjourned to the also-new Azilo Ultra Pool to mingle and sip cocktails. It was a good-looking crowd, to say the least, and other sexy Vegas performers like Melody Sweets and Amy “Miss Behave” Saunders were there, too.

So was Steven Soderbergh, the Oscar-winning director who helmed the Magic Mike movie in 2012. Two months later, Channing Tatum, star of Magic Mike and Magic Mike XXL in 2015 and co-creator of Magic Mike Live, announced there would be a third film, also directed by Soderbergh.

Magic Mike’s Last Dance hits theaters on February 10, telling the final chapter of the story of stripper Mike Lane (Tatum), who finds himself linking up with a socialite (Salma Hayek) who takes him to London to round up a group of male dancers for another sizzling show. Tatum’s producing partner Reid Carolin wrote all three screenplays.

And, it turns out, the show in the movie—and really, the entire third film—was inspired by the actual live show that has been running in Las Vegas since 2017.

“Soderbergh had seen the live show before [the Sahara opening] and was inspired by it, and obviously Channing and Reid are a huge part of the live show,” choreographer Alison Faulk, who works on the stage and screen versions of Magic Mike, tells the Weekly. “Everyone has kind of been in cahoots on all this stuff together, which has been really cool.”

When the Vegas show hit the stage at the Hard Rock Hotel, no one involved could have guessed that it would blossom into the global phenomenon it has become.

Hailed early on as a next-generation male revue with elements of comedy, cabaret, feminism and empowerment, Magic Mike Live made plans to move on when the Hard Rock shuttered to become Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, and it has settled in nicely at the Sahara.

“It feels that way to us,” Faulk says. “The cast, the front of house, the stage management, the whole team is awesome in that room, and the Sahara is a great home. Everybody loves it.”

Meanwhile, MML’s success spawned an international touring production and residencies in London and Germany, and then HBO Max produced Finding Magic Mike, a reality TV competition filmed mostly in Las Vegas, where two winning dancers joined the cast.

With an indie film based on Tatum’s real-life stripper past fully developed into a brand, it made sense to get the gang back together for one more movie. And this one co-stars several of the guys from the Vegas show cast, not to mention some seriously sexy scenery taken directly from the stage at the Magic Mike Theater at the Sahara.

“This journey has definitely been very personal to all the boys in the show,” says Jackson Williams, one of the original Vegas cast members, who has also performed alongside the likes of Whitney Houston, Robbie Williams and Ellie Goulding. “I packed my bags and met the lads in LA to start rehearsals, thinking it would be a year or two, and it ended up nearly six.

“How often do you get a project that you weren’t sure would work, and then it blows up to more than you dreamed of?” Williams continues. “And by the way, you’re going to shoot the film. What?”

Williams and some of the other lads have plenty of smaller acting jobs on their résumés, but this was next level. “We were shooting 18 hours nonstop, and your body is so tired, but that adrenaline rush gave us all we needed. It was phenomenal. And Salma is one of the funniest women you’ll ever meet. Everything is a moment with her.”

If you’ve seen the first two Magic Mike films, you’re aware the dancing gets bigger and bolder from original to sequel, and Faulk says “of course” Last Dance is going to bring it. “It always has to be better, it’s just a matter of how to evolve it,” she says. “What’s the story the writer and director are telling, and how can we facilitate that in a way that makes sense in this trilogy?”

Williams and Faulk are both hoping the movie will bring even more awareness to the Vegas show, and that theatergoers will become showgoers.

“Without the show, [the brand] wouldn’t be able to move forward,” Faulk says. “What Channing created, and what that original cast did, laid the groundwork. If it wasn’t successful, there wouldn’t have been anything else.”

MAGIC MIKE LIVE Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.; Thursday-Sunday, 7:30 & 10 p.m. Sahara, $49-$104, 833-624-4265, magicmikelivelasvegas.com.

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Brock Radke

Brock Radke is an award-winning writer and columnist who currently occupies the role of editor-at-large at Las Vegas Weekly magazine. ...

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