On Thursday evening, Aimée Lutkin and Joanna Rothkopf attended a performance of the Magic Men Live tour, billed as “the first live stage production to bring the phenomenon of Magic Mike, Fifty Shades of Grey and others to life with a high-energy and breathe [sic] taking experience unlike any other.” These are their stories.
Joanna: When Aimée asked me to go with her to Magic Men, some kind of Magic Mike rip-off for which I had no context other than having glanced at an email advertisement that showed nine unnaturally muscular guys wearing different Halloween costumes, I said a hesitant yes, since I am deeply shy but am also trying to be more open to life and all of its offerings.
The show was at the Playstation Theater, a 2,100-seat underground auditorium that typically hosts musical acts (Ja Rule and Ashanti will be there in August) right in the middle of Times Square. The venue and general vibe made me feel calmer, like nobody would ever know that we weren’t in the area to see the Lion King, or to buy a big M&M. But that feeling that I was just about to take in an unfamiliar cultural experience was destroyed when, in the security line, a female guard looked through my bag, found my two bottles of pills (migraine medicine and very dusty xanax) and opened each one and jiggled them around. Is that a thing that happens? Were they so scared that I was going to try to distribute molly in that sex dungeon? Should they have even cared?
Aimée: Okay, this is not my first rodeo. It’s my second. I went to one other male strip club, a year or two preceding the cultural shift around exotic dancing and Magic Mike. I’m a huge fan of the movies, and I was very curious to see how they’d influenced what the guys are working with up there. It’s not a completely fair comparison, because HunkOmania, where’d I’d been, was much smaller and lower key. For all I know, they still go through the same routines with maybe a Channing Tatum reference thrown in here or there.
This show, on the other hand, shamelessly caters to Magic Mike fans and the fantasy presented in the movie—that a handful of super-ripped guys can somehow satisfy an auditorium of a thousand women. There were moments during the performance when this almost felt true, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Entering the Playstation Theater, however, was a reminder that no matter how mainstream it gets, there will always be an undercurrent of weirdness to paying to touch and look at people’s bodies.
Joanna: We got drinks from the ultra-overpriced theater bar because, basically, how could we not? (If you ever go to one of these, I think the alcohol aspect is pretty integral, at least for me, for getting on board). While we were waiting to order, I noticed that Aimée and I were woefully underdressed—most women were wearing straight up club outfits, with cut out backs and spike heels. I wanted to know why they were doing this since the men were contractually obligated to pretend like they wanted to fuck you, so you might as well live the dream and be comfortable???
As I was getting the lay of the land, we heard the bartender charge two appropriately-attired girls next to us for their vodka-Red Bulls. “$30.”
Aimée: I expected to spend money. Even as guests, or “press” as we like to call ourselves when we try to get a strange man to hump us, I assumed that I should bring cash. I made some mistakes there—but again I’m getting ahead of myself.
Joanna’s water bottle also got thrown in the trash can when we entered, so unless you’re willing to stick a flask somewhere that even an exotic dancer won’t feel it, you’re paying for drinks. We went for the nine dollar well drinks, and they did the trick.
Honestly, I knew people would get dressed up and I would have as well, except it was just not humanly possible with my schedule that day. I think part of the fantasy is believing that they are attracted to you on some level and if you look cute it’s easier to maintain that fantasy. Even if they look at everyone the same way.
Joanna: I guess that’s true. And they did reward well-dressed women with one-on-one lapdances throughout the show. I never could have qualified for one of those because I was wearing pants and also wasn’t a bachelorette. And also never screamed, “FUCK ME!!!!!!!!!!” which some girls, appropriately, did.
Aimée: I held back out of respect for you.
Aimée: There were so many countdowns. The use of audio and flashing lights were very important at the top of the show. It seemed like there was a heartbeat countdown to a flashing light countdown, to the reveal of the MC Myles, to another countdown. Countdowns became meaningless.
Joanna: I mean, when everything is a countdown, does the climax even matter? And when we keep counting down with a low thrum (which I thought was supposed to be reminiscent of a throbbing penis), how are we supposed to trust that something is going to happen? I mean, something always did. But it was hard for me to trust.
The way they did the countdowns and the light show really made me think I was in an immersive Disney World ride, like The Terminator. Which I liked. In Myles’s opening shpiel, he mentioned men would be trolling around the audience for us to touch. So the overarching vibe of the night for me was Disney ride meets petting zoo.
Aimée: These strippers were traveling through time like Doc Brown. We started out in Los Angeles in 1951, where a large group danced in fedoras, raincoats, while opening and closing umbrellas, which is more or less a routine from Magic Mike. The dance was introduced with an extended video sequence about gangsters, I think. Then we were in modern times, or maybe 2014, because the theme was “Netflix & Chill,” though the dancer was dressed like the villain from Pretty In Pink. Then we fast-forwarded to the year 2025 for army men, I guess to create some separation between what we were seeing from the reality of any actual wars.
Joanna: For the rest of the show we remained in a kind of present-day/five minutes in the future where everyone is naked and strong in a setting. We stopped time-hopping and started hopping through the Halloween costume section of a T.J. Maxx.
Aimée: We will get into the actual dancing in more detail, but I will say that it wasn’t until the Magic Men’s iteration of Christian Grey came on stage that I really felt myself and the audience become hypnotized. I’m not a huge fan of this series, and I know lots of people have objections to E.L. James and her controversial portrayal of a BDSM relationship. I get it.
But let’s leave that aside for a second and just say that this is a huge cultural touchstone, especially for a crowd of women who have clearly left their moral qualms behind for the night. Lots of the acts lean mainly on how fit the performers are, but any time a strong storyline presented itself, things really coalesced. There is a world of difference between embodying a famous sex fiend and being a guy dancing in a white tracksuit (with white gloves on too, for some reason). Christian Grey was working for me, because I got his gimmick immediately.
Joanna: I mean that is the importance of the gimmick, for sure. I really couldn’t get on board with the Christian Grey guy for a number of reasons, including that I’m not interested in men who slick back their hair, or who wear black button down shirts with black slacks, or the dancer, who was one of the smaller, slicker guys in the troupe. But Magic Men knew that not every gimmick would be for every lusty girl. So, for the uniform fetishists they had several military sequences (one Army, one Marines), for country girls they had a cowboy dance, for the family of firefighters, they had a firefighting sequence, and for me they had a biker sequence (which I didn’t know would be for me, but somehow, really was).
The show was broken up into these little themed portions, so a group of guys (let’s say “The Firemen”) would come out, do a fireman-themed dance, then a one-on-one lap dance with an audience member. This kind of organization brought me straight back to my dance recital years, where, let’s say, I would play a horse and come out with the other horses to do a horse-themed dance.
Aimée: Also, they would sometimes make the girl come up and kind of sit in the background and watch as the guys performed for the crowd, like... just waiting. That seemed unnecessary.
At one point, Joanna turned to me and said something like, “This show is really for people in the Midwest,” and I don’t know. A lot of the themes didn’t play for me, but that’s okay. I started a count for how many times the guys ripped their tank tops off. If you saw a guy in a tank top, it was going to get ripped off.
Aimée: After an hour of getting this mob of drunk ladies all horned up, Myles invited women up to have a little one-on-one time with the guys for $20 a pop. What this actually looked like was a hundred women rushing the stage, then standing in line behind five or six chairs, waiting their turn to sit in front of the sweaty dancer of their choice and get lightly choked. I was one of the first people up there, because of my journalistic integrity.
When you get to the stage, a security guard makes you show your money. I have this really fucked-up wallet, so my cash was kind of spilling everywhere. I started to put some of it away, and the guard barked at me to keep my cash out. So I arrived first in line to see Christian Grey with a wad of 20s in one hand, my sad wallet in the other. He immediately grabbed my hand, pulled it down his body and into his underwear. There went around 80 bucks. Look, there’s no polite way to ask for change from under a man’s penis.
For that amount, I was handed a paddle to spank him with as he waggled his butt in my face, and yes, choked with a tie. I took up a collection on Facebook, and so far fourteen dollars have been donated to the Restore Aimée’s Dignity Fund. Mostly from men:
Joanna: I did not go for a dance during this interlude, which was called “Hot Seat,” but I did take lots of blurry pictures of Aimée from our seats in row PP like a proud stage mom. And because I hung back, with about 750 shy women, I got to do some thinking. Namely: If a big man grabbed my neck or hips or whatever, would I be turned on? Even after I saw him grab 100 other women’s neck or hips? Even while I’m holding money in my hands? Should I have gone up just for the life experience of touching real abs? Are these men happy during “Hot Seat?” Do they have dreams? Are men really able to get turned on by strippers? Are women? (Yes, and yes, seem to be the obvious answers.)
I ultimately decided I had made the right, or the only, choice for myself by staying in the crowd. And later the rookie of the group danced right behind me and I was brave enough to touch the heel of his sneaker and that was cool :).
Aimée: It was definitely too much like a cattle call for me to get really swept away. I remember leaving HunkOmania all those years ago riding a Lust High so intense I used the phrase “raw dog” when explaining what I wanted to do to some of those guys. I think that the Magic Mike films have increased the number
of women going to these things, and while stripping will always be a cash grab (see: actual cash grab that happened to me), quantity of attendees does lead to less quality of experience.
But, seeing those guys up close and personal really drove home how hard they were working for their money. It seemed like work. Also, Christian Grey was very sweet when I interviewed him at the office, and we talked for a bit after, and I hope he enjoys my $80. Plus, that interview gave me this gif, which will be playing for all eternity on my iHeadstone:
Aimée: They probably needed extended breaks for the dancers to recover and change their outfits, but damn, there were a lot of social media breaks. Hashtags, selfie contests, Snapchats of the audience screaming. I was surprised we were allowed to take pictures, at HunkOmania there was a very strict no photos policy throughout. There was also a guy with a video camera tracking the action, which would occasionally be broadcast on the screen on the stage, which was very disorienting. I did enjoy watching this skinny film school grad scampering through the crowd after a shirtless beefcake.
Joanna: Yeah, the juxtaposition between MC Myles saying, “This chair is soaking wet,” and then immediately saying, “Post a pic and hashtag it,” was jarring, because that is not a juxtaposition that I am used to in sex (mostly). Still, we participated in the contest (for the experience), and lost.
Joanna: I really have to say that the level of dance talent disappointed me. I don’t want to be snobby or rude to the Magic Men, who all seem so nice and earnest, but my expectations had been created solely by the Magic Mike and Magic Mike XXL trailers I’ve seen 10,000 times, and I couldn’t help but compare them to Joe Mangianello and Channing Tatum. They were neither Joe Mangianello nor Channing Tatum! They were lovely, but I had some real thinking to do about what was movie life and what was real life.
The choreography was also simple enough that it was clear that these dudes were not, as I had assumed, struggling dancers trying to make it in show biz. They were hunky men who got cast in a fun dance-y show and taught to do a very specific kind of ab/crotch gyration.
Aimée: Some dancers were better than others. Some had trouble maintaining the rhythm or even undulating smoothly. They also did a tribute to Magic Mike, like FLASHED THE WORDS “Magic Mike” on the screen, and came out in Channing Tatum’s face bandana look from the movie. Now, Tatum is very fine, but he also a seriously incredible dancer. Setting yourself up for that comparison is rough. I agree with Joanna that this show was mostly cast for looks, not dancing.
Aimée: Very graphic! There were the lone performances, some of which were sexier than others. Either because they suited your taste in men (Joanna likes big dudes, if you haven’t picked up on this) or the quality of their dancing/gimmick was on point (what this bitch was looking for). A couple of the guys are obviously dancers, despite our general criticisms above.
It was when they freaked on the women that dancing quality became less relevant and dancing intention took the stage. If you have a back problem, do not go up on stage at a Magic Men show, because you will get bent up like a pretzel and jackhammered through your underwear.
Joanna: Agreed. I would not be surprised logistically if some lap dance receivers went home pregnant.
Aimée: When I asked Myles in the office interview if he danced, he said no. But I could tell something was up. Myles runs the show and makes the naughty jokes. No one else speaks unless it’s a pre-recorded bit. Through most of the performance he’s dressed very business casual. For the crescendo, Myles appears in a boy band tribute and outfit, and yes, he rips off a tank top. Myles may not dance, but he does work out.
Joanna: While all of the men have a pleasant and appealing stage presence, it’s clear that Myles, who wore a button-down shirt and a tailored vest, is a performer. It was his job to keep the women interested in the narrative arc of the show (there wasn’t much of one), and he did that job capably. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him hosting Celebrity Game Night once Jane Lynch retires, or replacing Michael Strahan on Live! With Kelly and a Man.
Aimée: No. There were some moments when I got carried away, even aside from when I gave all my money to a man I know has a girlfriend. There were really just too many people. If we are comparing a stripclub for men, with female dancers, and a strip club intended for women, with male dancers, once again women lose out. There are variations in quality for both, of course, but I feel the environment set up for women needs to feel generally safer, maybe cleaner and more family friendly? But then it turns into the Disney ride petting zoo vibe that Joanna aptly described.
Joanna: I did not. As Aimée said, I really think I could have been into it with fewer women to compete with. Maybe I would have been more taken with the idea that Christian the Bad Boy was really interested in me for my sweet way and interesting mind. As it was, I necessarily resigned myself to being part of the press.
Aimée: I wanted something more sordid, more intimate. More dangerous. Maybe that’s fucked up, but if you’re already at strip club, a lot of your personal politics have already gone out the window. I don’t necessarily find it empowering for women to pay men to take off their clothes, but I do feel like I should be as entitled to as wild an experience as our male counterparts.
Joanna: Last night was fun, but it was definitely not empowering for me personally.
Aimée: No, definitely not me either! And that’s not even necessarily what I was seeking. I wanted to be taken in, and was willing to pay, but I paid and wasn’t completely glamoured. But I still think there was a hint of Magic around these Men. Maybe the elements for casting their spell on me were not in alignment.
- $80 spent on lapdances
- $40 spent on drinks
- 12 tank tops ripped (Way, way more, by my count—Aimée)
- 74 years of history covered
- 9 bare butts seen
- 1 mic used as a dick
- 1 Elmo breakdancing