Our show sends you on a journey,” says Jordan Darrell. “We’ve specifically done certain things to hype you up, or cool you down, or make you be silent, or make you agitated, and then you’ll erupt.”
His colleague Jamie Mckenzie nods in agreement. “You don’t just stand there, and it’s not body worship: it’s a show. It’s a time tunnel, as well; it takes you through musicals, takes you through everything.”
Darrell warms to the theme. “Movies, musicals, cowboys, Mexicans.” He laughs. “It takes you on a crazy journey. If you’re not singing along through most of the show and enjoying the music – take the dancing, stripping element away – then you’re crazy. It’s just catchy as anything.”
Darrell and Mckenzie are Dreamboys, members of the most popular troupe of male strippers in Britain, perhaps Europe. (1.8m Facebook likes; the Royal Shakespeare Company has 150k.) Theirs is an industry that has experienced a facelift in recent years; whereas once a byword for the type of night that required three hours in the shower to wash away the shame, the modern male stripper is fun, supremely talented, and – don’t laugh – rather wholesome.
First and foremost, the Dreamboys are performers: both Darrell and Mckenzie were professional dancers, and practically every person on the roster has a background in performing arts. A six pack and cheeky grin is a decent start, but will only take you so far.
Compared to when I first started out in the industry, it has completely changed,” says Darrell. “We’re a show within its own right – rather than just being strippers who are fulfilling a generic stripper ideal.”
Darrell auditioned for the Dreamboys “a couple of years ago”; now he choreographs the shows. Like all Dreamboys, Darrell and Mckenzie boast phenomenal physiques – “everyone’s sort of a fitness fanatic” – yet they are also intelligent, articulate and fiercely proud of their profession.
“You’ll meet someone: ‘I’m Jamie.’ Yeah, what do you do? ‘I’m from the Dreamboys.’ And they’ll instantly have a perception of how you’re gonna be. When you actually talk to me, I’m just a normal person.”
Three of us attended a show in late November: a writer [me], a photographer, and one very excited female producer. After a few pre-show snaps – the boys, needless to say, are not afraid of the camera in any way – I interview Darrell and Mckenzie in the dressing room: a tiny space equipped with a mirror, a toilet, and a half-empty bottle of vodka. (University flashbacks abound.)
Halfway through our chat, my phone goes off. “Hi Mum. Not right now.”
The narrow corridor backstage is choked with props, bags, items of discarded clothing, and lots of men in various states of undress. As the evening progresses a parade of doctors, businessmen and sailors will sally through the stage door, returning a few minutes later all-but naked, their costumes clutched to sweat-streaked torsos, their eyes bright and alive. You could be behind-the-scenes at any West End musical, give or take the odd rubber penis.
It’s a full-on production. It’s not just thrown together on a whim or some guys freestyling taking their clothes off on stage
“To perform for any type of crowd you need a certain amount of confidence,” says Darrell of the attributes required to be a Dreamboy. “It’s not about loving yourself as a muscle man; it’s more about entertaining the crowd. So, confidence and happiness.”
Through the door is where the real action awaits. Row upon row of cheering women surround a small raised stage in the centre of the hall. Music blares, lights flare, manicured hands are raised aloft. Darrell estimates 80% of attendees per year are female but tonight it’s basically a clean sweep; although, there is a drag queen, magnificent in a giant pink wig, sipping a flute of champagne.
There’s a party atmosphere, with the bar packed and more than one hen party in attendance. “With the show, a lot of people thought it would be a lot more seedy… But once we’ve broken that humour barrier, everyone’s so much more comfortable.”
It would be pretty hard not to be comfortable with the Dreamboys: even during some of the more risqué numbers, tongues are pressed firmly in cheek. No, not that cheek. The gasps and “oh my Gods!” are joyous, the mood never less than buoyant. Above anything else it’s fun, the type of unabashed Saturday night entertainment – silly, a little smutty, fixated on a good time – that has been playing since the audience wore togas.
Although the spirit of the show may be as old as Earth (or at least theatre), male stripping as an industry is relatively nascent: Chippendales, formed in 1979, was the first all-male dance troupe dedicated to the removal of clothing. Distinguished by a bow tie, bare-chest aesthetic, and packing considerable pizazz, Chippendales favoured entertainment over sex; this act was illuminated by the bright lights of Broadway, not the red glow of Amsterdam.
The success of Chippendales caught attention across the Atlantic, and the Dreamboys were duly established in 1986. Today, 11 Dreamboys clubs operate across England, while the UK tour that kicks off in March will run until mid-December. (Over a year, Darrell estimates, “we do 190-something dates.”) Anyone stood on British soil will never be more than a few days and a few dozen miles away from a Dreamboys performance. And if you can’t make it, there’s always the calendar.
Dreamboys’ website cites The Full Monty as male stripping’s cultural awakening; yet the film portrayed its subject broadly, albeit not without tenderness, with much of the humour deriving from the ineptitude of Robert Carlyle, Mark Addy and their fellow steelworkers.
Fifteen years later, however, the muscular Channing Tatum, himself a former stripper, thrilled audiences and danced up £120m at the box office as Magic Mike. This was the stripper as demigod: capable of inducing a crowd to borderline ovulation by combining intricate dance routines with rock-solid abs. In Magic Mike, stripping isn’t merely cool, it’s aspirational; and like rock stars, or Premier League footballers, only a select few need apply.
Good choreography, a good hype, entertainment to the crowds and everything. It doesn’t really matter at all how big your junk is, as it were, as long as everyone’s happy and entertained
Darrell credits Magic Mike for confirming that a strip show can primarily be about entertainment: costumes, lights and a hell of a good time. “That’s made what we do a lot easier. People can go, ‘ah I wanna see some kind of Magic Mike-style show’.”
‘Easier’ in a conceptual sense; bringing the ideas on stage is another matter entirely. Darrell will start planning a new show in October. “Blank piece of paper, no ideas, and I’ll slowly develop it with my assistant.” After a three-month conception period, there follows a further month choreographing the selected music; the boys then have three weeks to learn the moves before a week of dress rehearsals.
“It’s a full-on production,” stresses Darrell. “It’s not just thrown together on a whim or some guys freestyling taking their clothes off on stage. There’s so much thought process behind everything – from the costume, the lighting, the choreography, the music, the little interludes. It’s a show!”
Although some acts might involve audience participation – placed on a bed, lifted on a chair – there is little that wouldn’t be shown in the average music video: it’s all far more pop than pornography. “The way I choreograph the show is purely performance-based. There’s absolutely no sexual intent in it. We interact with the women and bring them on stage and do things, but without sounding bad, it’s more like they’re a prop.”
Occasionally, the audience might get their own ideas. Mckenzie recalls his first-ever strip show, which happened to be a full monty. Mckenzie was a pretty seasoned performer – “I used to do ballroom competitions when I was eight years old” – but even he felt the pressure as revelation drew near. “For the first nine minutes I was sweet, but then the last minute, when you’ve got to get it all off, was a bit nerve-racking.”
The moment or truth finally arrived. “I stood there, took my flag off, and a woman reached up and grabbed my you-know-what! I was stood there for about a minute and just didn’t know what to do.”
Of course, the full monty isn’t for everyone, but even here mentality matters more than anatomy. “They do ask ‘how big are you?’ if it’s your first time, but it’s how you feel comfortable. If you feel comfortable getting it out and you don’t have a problem then it’s sweet.”
“Women still appreciate the performance,” adds Darrell. “Good choreography, a good hype, entertainment to the crowds and everything. It doesn’t really matter at all how big your junk is, as it were, as long as everyone’s happy and entertained.”
Presumably a Dreamboy can expect a fair amount of attention from their audience?
“It’s hype of the moment a lot of the time,” says Darrell. “People playing to the group rather than acting with serious intent. Sure, they might shout something, whisper words in the ear, but it’s a laugh and a joke really.”
So no propositions?
“Not like numbers and stuff. Intentions, like ‘I want to kiss your face’, ‘can I touch your body’, ‘let me touch your abs’. Things like that, but it’s all in good humour.”
The average Dreamboy prefers to keep their professional and social lives apart. “Stripping is work,” says Mckenzie. “I wouldn’t really want to get a girlfriend from that. I’d rather we met outside of my work, if I’m honest.”
Like most people fortunate enough to work challenging jobs that they happen to love, the boys are keen to progress to the next level. The ultimate dream is a West End Show housed in a regular venue.
“They do a Magic Mike show in Vegas that’s set in one venue,” says Darrell. “What I could do with the show in one venue a night would far exceed what we have to do on tour, when we go from theatre to theatre.
“If we had one set theatre for a period of time, the show would just be incredible. People wouldn’t be ready for that.”
For more information go to dreamboys.co.uk