The Chippendales world began modestly enough, 43 years ago. A failing night club tried some strip shows using male dancers.
Then things soared in odd ways. There were huge crowds, big profits, creative differences … and investigations for murder and arson and more.
That’s already been the subject of movies, books and, last year, a four-part Discovery+ documentary. Now there’s the “Welcome to Chippendales” mini-series (shown here), on Hulu. The third episode is Nov. 29, with the others on the next five Tuesdays.
This is a true story, peppered with odd details. “It has this glossy, kind of campy overlay, because it’s the Chippendale dancers,” said, Annaleigh Ashford, who co-stars. “And then underneath that, there’s the belly of everything that was happening socially.”
The story reflects the start of the 1980s, a go-go decade with an emphasis on money and pleasures.
“It’s a show about male stripping,” writer-producer Robert Siegel said, “but it also goes pretty deeply into the nature of the American dream, capitalism, assimilation, second-wave feminism (and) racism.”
That second wave was nudged – accidentally, perhaps — by Somen “Steve” Banerjee.
“He did create this space where women could really express themselves in a way that they had not been able to in a big group,” said Kumail Nanjiani, who plays him. “However, that was not why he created that space, right? He was trying to just make money.”
He had tried earlier with a gas station and a backgammon club, without much success. In 1975, he bought a failing Los Angeles club; he tried featuring female mud-wrestlers and strippers; then came the notion of a male strip night. Soon, Banerjee and his business partner were spinning off new clubs around the U.S. and beyond.
“Two of the main characters (had a) contract that they made on a napkin at a diner,” Nanjiani said. “And that napkin held up in court. It was just scribbling that was a binding contract.”
For Siegel – who had previously done a movie about McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc and a mini-series about Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee – this was new turf.
“I didn’t know any of this…. The fact that the guy behind Chippendales was an Indian immigrant is fascinating and surprising,” he said. There there was “the connection to Playboy and Dorothy Stratten and the whole Paul Snider angle.”
Snider was the schemer who suggested the club use male strippers. Stratten, his wife, was an actress and Playmate of the Year; she helped connect Banerjee to her friend Hugh Hefner, who allowed the Chippendales to use the cuffs-and-collars look of Playboy bunnies. In real life, Snider’s jealousy soon grew; he and Stratten were found dead, in an apparent murder-suicide.
Meanwhile, Nick De Noia had stepped in as the choreographer, adding a Broadway-type tone. Then he was killed and Banerjee was convicted – eventually – of hiring the hit man.
“This was a murder case that spanned (seven) years, which is kind of surprising,” Ashford said. “And it’s also kind of amazing that they caught him.”
Ashford was a dancer first, long before becoming a Broadway Tony-winner and a TV star on the now-canceled “B Positive.” She plays someone making money backstage, while the guys dance.
“This was an era of dance that I love so much,” she said. And “this character was a beautifully complex, interesting woman who was good with numbers – I am not.”
There were big numbers then, as the Chippendales drew crowds. There are big ones now, as they perform in a $10-million Las Vegas arena and have troupes in the rest of the Americas, plus Europe and Asia. In between, there were schemes, dreams, murder plots and other things a mini-series requires.