Men are hard at work as ticket sales go live and an opening date looms nearer for Men of the Strip
UPDATE – 5/17/17, 3:30pm Since the publishing of this article earlier today, it appears that a decision has been made to push the opening of Men of the Strip to July 14th. A video, posted on Men of the Strip’s Facebook page five hours ago, depicts Jeff Timmons and some of the cast inviting fans to see the show starting on July 14th. Ticketmaster’s MOTS page has been changed to reflect the later opening date. I’m still waiting for an official statement from Tropicana and/or MOTS to confirm this, but a delayed opening seems likely. I’ll update with further details as they become available. Sammasseur
THREE YEARS AGO
The number of details that have gone into producing Tropicana‘s Men of the Strip, like any production, have been daunting. Hours of planning, casting, networking, legalities and preparation must bring those elements together before a single performance is tallied. But they all get traced back to one thing…an idea.
Singer/writer/producer Jeff Timmons is the brains (and considerable brawn) behind Men of the Strip, the new show bowing this month at Trop’s Havana Room. As the story goes, Timmons was guest-hosting Chippendales at Rio a few years back when he became inspired to create his own cutting-edge male revue.
From there, the inevitable avalanche of brainstorming, financing, auditions and show creation yielded a nationwide tour that culminated in a triumphant Vegas showcase. Alas, things came to a grinding halt after a tragic event. Despite the successful run and a ravenous fan base, Men of the Strip was shelved indefinitely.
Inside the Henderson, NV dance studio during costume fittings…
FOUR WEEKS AGO
This spring, the creative process is back again in full swing. Earlier in April, three key players from Men of the Strip‘s creation converged in Las Vegas for a relaunch…this time on a much larger scale (last month I reported on the expanded show/nightclub/pool party concept here). And as promised, I was there to capture some of the preparation and speak with members of the team…both new and returning.
Timmons was front and center…and all around the studio…during auditions for new dancers. An open casting call had been announced in Los Angeles and Las Vegas for the first two days of April, with candidates encouraged to pre-submit video demonstrations of their skills.
Mike Foland arrives at Tropicana with rookie Tyler Froehlich…
Social media plays a big part in casting these days. Show choreographer Glenn Douglas Packard, returning from MOTS’s initial run, reached out to various dancers in the industry. He also stepped out of the box by direct-contacting newbie Tyler Froehlich, whose Instagram page he happened upon.
Both Timmons’ and MOTS’s Facebook pages broadcast the auditions live, with viewers encouraged to chime in on their favorites. The show’s financier Mike Foland told me that the cast would constantly be interactive with fans, both online and after each performance. He wants the audience to get to know the men as individuals and enjoy their unique personalities as much as their looks and dancing skills.
With a projected start date looming and ticket sales about to go live, only one week passed before the cast was chosen, notified and assembled to begin rehearsals. I stopped by the following Monday at The Stage, a professional studio in Henderson, where the men were already sweating through their paces.
Choreographer Packard (far right) and Men of the Strip 2.0
Timmons wasn’t present on the day of my visit. As has been the case since announcing the residency, he was making the rounds of a media publicity blitz. That means traveling to various cities, appearing on talk shows and doing interviews to promote his baby.
Mike Foland greeted me and showed me around as costume fittings were underway. I immediately recognized the uber-cool biker costumes that opened up the show in 2014. Over in the main studio, choreographer Packard was shouting out instructions for that very same number: “Okay, helmets on your shoulders. One-two-three, thrust, turn, turn!” (or something to that effect).
After putting the dancers through their paces, Packard discussed his goals for MOTS 2.0. The multi-talented choreographer/dancer/TV star is fresh from directing his first film, PITCHFORK, a horror thriller (released on Blu-ray and DVD this month).
With creativity in overdrive, Packard said he has taken the best of the Mandalay Bay show and pared it into a fast-moving 90 minutes designed to leave audiences out of breath.
“We’ve got a great bunch,” he said. “They’re deep into the third number, and it’s only been one week. It took a month to get this far the last time around. We’re lucky to have gotten a really good group. The challenge now is to teach what we already have to a whole new cast of men…” Packard confided.
Advertising materials inside the resort will soon blanket the city…
Fortunately, he’s inherited ample support from the group’s mentor-figure, returning performer Joel Sajiun. Dominican Republic native Sajiun moved back to South Florida after MOTS disbanded, waiting for a phone call. “Three years I wait. Three years! I was about to take a construction job next week when the phone rang” he said. “It was fate.”
Foland echoed that sentiment. “We waited a long time for Men of the Strip to come back together. We had to heal first. When we were ready, it was hard to find the right place”. He and others scoped numerous locations in Vegas and came close to signing a deal with The Stratosphere (the former Poly Esther’s nightclub). “Then Havana Room was presented to us, and we knew this was it. Everything fell into place”.
Mike Foland surveys the Havana Room after meeting with Tropicana execs…
Now that the team is back in action, Joel Sajiun finds it hard to keep his emotions in check. He choked up several times during our conversation. The dancer recounted stories of special-needs audience members who attended the nationwide tour, and one dedicated fan whose family sent a message of gratitude after she had passed away.
“What we’re doing here is special. It isn’t just a male stripper show. In some way, we’re making people feel better and affecting lives. Anybody can give extra attention to a pretty girl in the audience, but to us, everyone is special.”
As he stood up to rejoin his partners, Sajiun stopped and looked me in the eye. “This sounds funny, but what we’re doing here…somehow it’s special. It makes a difference to people. I know it does…and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Timmons and Foland sat down with me at the Tropicana‘s casino lounge last week to discuss their progress. They’d just come from a meeting with hotel execs. Both were energized by the challenges involved in organizing a residency versus a tour.
“Last time around was easy!” said Timmons. “When we were touring, we just advertised at a city, showed up in our bus and performed. Now it’s a whole different game. I’m trying to make sure we’ve got coverage in People magazine, US Weekly, TMZ. We’re learning the intricacies of Vegas marketing…taxi ads, ticket brokers, hotel concierges, timeshare people. You can’t just erect a billboard here and expect people to line up.”
“Havana Room never had a resident show before” Foland added. “We’ve needed to work with Ticketmaster to map out the space, arrange seats and decide on price points. Glenn has to rework production numbers for the uniqueness of the floor layout and audience placement. It’s tough!”
Timmons and Foland chat with industry colleagues outside of the Viva Vegas awards….
With only two weeks to go before opening night, I joined the cast and management of MOTS for the Viva Vegas TV Awards celebration at nearby Mandalay Bay. That industry-centric event had already nominated MOTS for “Best Male Revue” (their showcase performance at MB in 2014 made them eligible). They ended up taking the prize over more established brands like Chippendales and Thunder From Down Under.
Clearly, the word has gotten out that Men of the Strip will be a formidable entry in Vegas male revues. Coming out of a three-year holding pattern, that’s encouraging to Timmons: “You know, we waited a long time for this. Tragedy struck and nearly wiped us out…but I never gave up hope. The universe has aligned for us”.
“Now is the time. And we’re ready!”
Men of the Strip will perform Thursday through Sunday at 9 pm at Tropicana beginning
May 25th July 14th. Tickets start at $49.99 (plus taxes/fees) and are available via this link. Use offer code “PARTY” for a 30% discount.
Photos: [Sammasseur, Men of the Strip]