Usually when one thinks of Las Vegas, aggressively supersize outposts of celebrity chef restaurants and packs of fratty bachelor (and novelty-penis-adorned bachelorette) parties come to mind. But Vegas is also home to some pretty excellent theater beyond the traditional Cirque du Soleil. Residencies are the glitzy city's new big thing, complete with three additional hot tickets: Channing Tatum's gift to humanity, "Magic Mike Live," the best selling boy band ever Backstreet Boys: Larger Than Life," and boy band graduate turned superstar "Ricky Martin: All In."
So come for the tunes, the stellar dance moves, and the hot, hot emoting, but stay for the costumes, which — because it's Vegas — are especially over-the-top, but in a very, very good way. (And yes, to answer your question, the costumes in "Magic Mike Live" are integral to the awesomeness of the show, even if they mostly come off.)
For all the juicy details, I caught up with the costume designers for each of the residencies — Emmy winning Marina Toybina, Tierney Burchett and Dean and Dan Caten of Dsquared2, respectively — plus checked in with Emmy winner Soyon An for the long-running (for Vegas) "Britney Spears: Piece of Me," which is — sob — winding down at the end of this year. Because what happens in Vegas should not stay in Vegas — not when it comes to fashion, anyway.
"Magic Mike Live" at the Hard Rock Hotel
The #aesthetic: "Magic Mike Live" is not your "cheesy" Vegas male revue with dorky costume-y outfits involving pedestrian breakaway pants and thongs. It's a classy, elegant and elevated performance. Like the two preceding hit movies, involves a plot featuring "Mike," who is taught important life lessons by 12 very fit (and talented) dancers via meticulously choreographed vignettes, audience participation lap dances and costumes by four-time Emmy winner Marina Toybina.
"It's very street savvy," she tells me over the phone from Los Angeles. "It's smart fashion, rather than going full-on costumes." Aside from a fireman who makes an appearance in the opening sequence, the characters are "the everyday guy you want to meet on the street and also be friends with" (and possibly more). Each dancer communicates his individual steez through a specific "relatable" looks: hipster, rocker, "suave guy," the hip-hop dude, etc. So think: tailored suiting, skinny dark wash jeans, and pec-hugging T-shirts that are all meant to be skillfully and gracefully removed.
Fun, behind-the-scenes wardrobe tricks: The aforementioned pieces of clothing were carefully engineered to make dancers' high-brow strip-down effortless and flawless. Like Broadway costume designers, Toybina isn't ready to give away her secrets, but she did rely on double-sewn hidden snaps, zippers and plackets that wouldn't be noticeable to an audience. These are not your run-of-the-mill tearaway pants, people. "The risk was that things would open or unsnap in the middle of the performance before we get to the main peaks of when the clothing comes off," she says.
Artist input: Creator and co-director Channing Tatum was very hands-on in developing the show. "Having Chan’s input truly helped me understand the male side of it and what the guys want to see," explains Toybina, who also brought her husband to a performance (and he fully enjoyed it). "Because the show is for all types of audiences, it's important to capture that [through wardrobe]. The women enjoy it and the guys don't feel intimidated."
Highlight: For lack of better words, the climatic parts of the show, for which Toybina and her team created specially branded "Magic Mike Live" underwear. The "very cool" undies worn by all the dancers were also engineered down to the very last detail. "We, of course, have to do a few special things in order to make sure that everything stays in its place," Toybina says. "That's working with hidden elastics, or being able to take in certain things and create darts or find the proper sizing for the guys. At the same time, make them feel safe on stage. This isn't your typical male revue show. The focus truly isn't on what the underneath will look like. It's how we get to that part." Can't wait for the journey.
"Backstreet Boys: Larger Than Life" at the Axis Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino
The #aesthetic: "The inspiration behind the costumes was to be more high fashion rather than stage or costume," explains the Backstreet Boys' wardrobe designer Tierney Burchett over email. So she went with custom-made white leather suits for a "futuristic" aesthetic for the opener — an homage to the iconic Millennium cover (and "I Want It That Way" video), plus the space-themed 1999 TRL-hit "Larger Than Life" video, also starring Nick Carter's early-aughts curtains cut.
The second act is heavy on swoon-y ballads, so Carter, A.J. McLean, Kevin Richardson, Brian Littrell and Howie Dorough change into rakish gold suiting. The costume lineup also honors traditional Vegas swagger by taking the boy band a little out of their comfort zone — i.e., sparkly tuxedo jackets. "The sequins thing is definitely something new for us," Burchett explains. "The guys have always stayed away from the super glitzy and glammy stuff, but when in Vegas! It definitely brings a new element into their realm of wardrobe. This may be the only place we rock a sequined jacket, so we will definitely take full advantage of that."
Fun behind-the-scenes wardrobe tricks: Burchett made sure that all the wardrobe sourced would allow for the dance moves with as little modification as possible. Due to the number of quick changes between sets, she and her team did add in little cheats for the guys, like replacing the buttons on their button-down shirts with snaps.
Although, gird your loins, act three is inspired by "BDSM" and features "a bunch of fast-paced and more risqué songs, if you will." (I'm guessing "The Call" and "Get Another Boyfriend" are involved.) So, obviously Fifty Shades-esque leather harnesses were in order. "It's always tricky dealing with custom because you're building from scratch, but we have a really good team of professionals behind the madness that make it all happen," she says.
Artist input: As fans of boy bands know, each member fills a role, sartorially and in personality, like bad boy A.J. or nice guy Howie or the responsible elder Kevin, etc. "We try to find a happy balance in achieving the look we're going for and still meet their personal styles at the same time," she explains. "The biggest challenge is making their different styles all cohesive with one another, but at the end of the day, they always come out looking good — with or without my help."
Highlight: The update on the iconic BSB white suits, obviously, which were custom made by designer Maya Reynolds for Clade, her Los Angeles-based (and made) menswear line. "We didn't want it to look super costume-y so we kept it all very sleek and simple," Burchett explains. "The only pop of color we put into that look were the YSL metallic silver boots, which gave the white a nice contrast without overdoing it." And that's what they call a fashion evolution.
"Ricky Martin: All In" at the Park Theater at Monte Carlo
The #aesthetic: Dean and Dan Caten, twins and co-founders of DSquared2, met Ricky Martin in 2001 and worked together multiple times since, so designing for the "Livin' La Vida Loca" superstar's residency was smooth sailing. "We worked closely with Ricky to ensure we conveyed his vision," the Catens explain via email and the costumes were designed to reflect and thematically tie together the set list. The show kicks off with a "very old school glamorous Las Vegas" feel with a throwback to Frank Sinatra, opening with "a tailored look: gold leaf print jacket dinner jacket, tuxedo trousers and custom patent leather Icon boots."
There's also a "jailhouse rock" segment featuring slick leather jacket and pants. While Martin is the focal point, obviously, the backup dancers complete the spectacular tableau. "We want his dancers to look just as good too! It's about finding that balance between a showstopping look for Ricky, and a complementary version for the dancers," the twins explain. "Certain elements from Ricky’s look were carried through to the dancers, like the sequin blazer for Ricky was translated into a sequin vest for the guys, and crystal bodysuit for the ladies – little things like that."
Fun behind-the-scenes wardrobe tricks: "Two words: zips and snaps." The Catens also added elastic to pants to allow for flexibility and movement during the intense dance sequences and padding in the shoes, so Martin stays comfy on stage.
Artist input: "Luckily Ricky loved what we already created so it was a matter of pulling together looks and making adjustments for performance," explain the Catens.
Highlight: Everything. "Of course we had to have glitz and glam! Being in Vegas gave us the opportunity to go for over the top looks and the ability to try certain combinations or design elements we might not use elsewhere."
Last Look: "Britney Spears: Piece of Me" at the Axis Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino
All good things must come to an end, including Britney Spears's "Piece of Me" residency, which debuted in December 2013 — and unveiled revamped costumes in March 2016 with the help of Soyon An. To amplify Spears's performance (and her very diligent workouts) through her outfits, An commissioned sketches from designers, including Nicholas Jebran and Bao Tranchi, for custom designed pieces. She then presented sketches to Spears, who made the final decision on the looks to fit each of the show's "worlds," such as heaven and hell, rock 'n' roll, circus, jungle, and "S&M fetish-y."
The costume designer looked back on the Piece of Me residency costumes and thinks they'll leave just as much of a legacy as the legendary looks she dressed Kelsea Ballerini, Sofia Carson, Jamie Lynn Spears and Hailee Steinfeld in for the Britney Spears tribute medley at the Radio Disney Music Awards. "She's an icon," An says, getting nostalgic over her personal favorite: the opener top hat and sparkly green leotard (above) by Jebran. "That costume has so many Swarovski crystals on it," she sighs.
There's still time to catch the residency before December 31, which you might want to, even if you've seen it already.
"With Britney, she can surprise with you every show," An says. "So for all the fans — they should know that she might just switch up what she wears on a show-to-show basis, depending on her mood. She's got different options, so she'll pull up stuff from two, three years ago." Here's to hoping for a midriff-exposing button-down shirt, grey cardigan and schoolgirl miniskirt if we see the show, um, one more time.