It is with no small amount of amusement that I tell you, Magic Mike Live has been one of the most difficult reviews I’ve ever had to write. It would be easy for me to sit here and wax lyrical about how attractive the dancers were (because they were) or how much the crowd of – mainly women – exploded every time they saw a hint of an ab (because they did). What I think is more interesting is how uncomfortable certain elements of the show made me.
But before I dive into that, here are some things Magic Mike Live does extremely well.
The venue is amazing and it effectively transports you to a world of decadence and opulence. The Arcadia is the world’s largest, two-storey Spiegeltent, proving once again that size does matter. The lights are dimmed, the drinks are flowing and the men are shirtless. The night begins with a cringe-inducing male MC (Rik Brown) who introduces a handful of dancers in various costumes – fireman, policeman, naval officer – suddenly I’m questioning if I’ve stumbled into a Village People tribute show. But it is soon revealed that this is simply an elaborate ruse and the real MC is the hilarious Amy Ingram. Gone are the stereotypical costumes, replaced with some thigh-clinging stretch denim and muscle shirts.
Conceived and directed by Channing Tatum himself, who makes a vocal cameo at the beginning as Ingram’s mythical unicorn imaginary friend, the performance is reminiscent of the popular films of the same name. There is a loose narrative throughout with the seemingly inexperienced ‘Mike’ (Anthony Bartley) learning the ways of seduction and by the end of the show we see him as a fully developed performer. But let’s be honest, no one really cared about the narrative.
The music was a highlight, with tracks such as Fatman Scoop’s Be Faithful causing the audience to sing and dance in their seats. In our current COVID environment, it was the closest any of us had come to a dance club in a long time and we relished it.
By far the best thing about the show was its brilliant choreography, I just wish there had been more of it. The skill and strength exhibited by each of the dancers as they back flipped, tap-danced and were suspended from the ceiling exceeded my expectations. In particular, an aerial performance by Bartley and Max Francisco was mesmerising and in stark contrast to all the crotch grabbing that was going on. Seriously – it hasn’t fallen off, you can stop checking.
And this leads me to why elements of Magic Mike Live made me cringe. Throughout the performance Ingram expelled the typical ‘female empowerment’ tropes you would expect. Those very surface level comments of ‘Don’t settle for a limp dick’ and ‘We deserve to get what we want’ – geared to get a rise from the crowd. At one point Ingram asked one of the dancers – what did he think women really wanted – and his beautifully rehearsed (if somewhat awkward) response was ‘For men to ask permission before getting into her space’.
So having already addressed the issue of consent – tick – audience members were brought up on stage to “participate”. On a few of these occasions it was clear the “volunteers” were actually part of the show, but it appeared some were not. I found the simulated sex moves incredibly uncomfortable. The women didn’t appear to know what was going to happen to them when they agreed to be pulled up on stage and there was a sense that they weren’t so much willing participants and more that this was something being done to them. The feeling was exacerbated by the ‘no touchy touchy’ rule and the fact that most of the women looked mortified as they laughed uncomfortably and covered their faces. Is this what female empowerment looks like? A dick thrust in your face as you lie on a bar, laugh uncomfortably, have your shirt pulled up and whipped cream licked off your stomach? Indeed, is this what consent looks like? If nothing else, Magic Mike Live made it very clear that what men think women want and what women actually want are two very, very different things.
I saw so many women recoil in shock and embarrassment when the men would crowd their space and gyrate in their face. Under different circumstances that type of aggressive behaviour would be perceived as a threat and a woman’s natural instinct, when physically imposed on, is to move away.
But perhaps I’m overthinking it, or perhaps it’s been 9 years since the first Magic Mike film hit our screens and the world has changed a lot.
TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The reviewer attended the performance on Friday 22 January in Sydney.
Magic Mike Live will be performing at Sydney’s Moore Park until April 4 before heading to Melbourne in June 2021. For more information and to book head to the website: https://magicmikelive.com.au/
Header image credit: Peter Brew-Bevan