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Howard Sherman: What will Magic Mike the Musical show us – if anything?

The cast of Magic Mike Live at London Hippodrome. Photo: Trevor Leighton
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If you have a desire to see Magic Mike Live, your options are London, Las Vegas and, come November, Berlin. If you want to see Magic Mike the Musical your options are… to be determined.

The 2012 Magic Mike movie and its sequel three years later have proven themselves to be a mini industry in their own right, with the film’s star Channing Tatum taking the lead in extending the brand into live performance. But while the male burlesque of Magic Mike Live seems to have settled into a successfully franchised groove, the world of musical theatre is proving more challenging.

A couple of weeks ago, the musical, which was scheduled to try out in Boston in the late autumn, lost its writing team of Tom Kitt, Brian Yorkey and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. ‘Lost’ isn’t exactly the right word, since it suggests that perhaps they were misplaced. In fact, they departed the production over that evergreen, wilfully vague reason: creative differences. The Boston booking was cancelled.

Since the writing team left together, presumably their differences were not with one another. It is interesting to note that the director Trip Cullman and choreographer Camille A Brown reportedly remain attached to the project, suggesting that they’re in sync with the producers’ intentions while Kitt, Yorkey, and Aguirre-Sacasa were not.

As startling as the departure of a musical’s entire writing team may be, it’s not unprecedented. A small litany of talented theatre artists took on King Kong and then bowed out, with Eddie Perfect, Marius de Vries and Jack Thorne still standing by the time the show reached Broadway. In the case of Magic Mike, its unique selling proposition, the equivalent of the proverbial 800 pound gorilla – which is actually two tonnes on Broadway – is most certainly its buff strippers, essential DNA it shares with the existing live show and the films.

Those steeped in Broadway lore can dredge up other examples of such major creative changes. Perhaps the five named producers, who along with Tatum and the first film’s director Steven Soderbergh do not have a Broadway producing credit among them, are taking heart from a vintage last-minute creative change from the 1950s.

In early 1953, a Broadway score from popular composer Leroy Anderson and lyrics by Arnold B Horwitt were jettisoned by producer Robert Fryer with only five weeks before his Greenwich Village-set musical was to debut. In that case, the replacements were Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green and the show was Wonderful Town, a solid hit that gave Bernstein his only Tony Award.

Of course, Kitt and Yorkey already have Tonys and Aguirre-Sacasa is the stage-bred creator of several hit TV series, so Tatum, Soderbergh and company may not find it as easy as Fryer did to trade up – or even trade laterally. Wonderful Town was based on short stories by Ruth McKenney that had already been adapted into a successful Broadway play, My Sister Eileen. So, in what is surely the first time the two properties have been linked, Magic Mike and Wonderful Town are both rooted in pre-existing intellectual properties venturing into new territory, troubled though their creations may be.

It would be facile to look at the turmoil around Magic Mike and say this is what comes of the movies-into-musicals trend, or that it’s a by-product of shows that are producer rather than writer-initiated. This is simply part of how many shows have reached the Broadway stage for decades. The final verdict on its success will be in what actually reaches the stage and, appropriately for Magic Mike, what it ultimately has to show us.

Magic Mike Live review at London Hippodrome – ‘a money-maker shaking hit’

This week in US theatre

With his Hillary and Clinton running on Broadway, Lucas Hnath’s newest play makes its premiere on Sunday at Los Angeles’ Center Theatre Group. Dana H is a true-life one-person show about a prison chaplain abducted by a convict, recounted in the chaplain’s own words, by actor Deirdre O’Connell, under Les Waters’ direction. Of particular note: the chaplain was (and is) Hnath’s mother. The show will play at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre in September.

The first major New York revival of Christopher Shinn’s Dying City opens on Monday at Off-Broadway’s Second Stage, with Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Colin Woodell comprising the cast. The production is directed by the playwright, who took over shortly before rehearsals began following the departure of the original director for a film opportunity.

The newest play by Pulitzer-winner Donald Margulies, Long Lost, premieres on Tuesday at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Off-Broadway venue at City Center. The story of a long-absent man reinserting himself into the life of his brother and his brother’s family is directed by Margulies’ longtime collaborator Daniel J Sullivan.

Howard Sherman is a New York based arts administrator and advocate. Read his latest column every Friday at thestage.co.uk/author/howard_sherman/

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