Say “Chippendales” today and most people will probably picture ab-tastic men in leather pants and tiny bowties, but the origin story and early years of the dance troupe were much darker and tragic — one with which “Welcome to Chippendales” production designer Richard Bloom was quite familiar. “My mother’s a big fan of true crime and murder shows, so I think I’d seen a podcast or a ‘Dateline’ about it,” he tells Gold Derby at Meet the Experts: TV Production Designers panel (watch the exclusive video interview above).
Premiering Tuesday, Nov. 22, the Hulu limited series tracks how Steve Banerjee (Kumail Nanjiani) turned his failed backgammon club into Chippendales in 1979. The male striptease revue was an immediate success and the entrepreneur partnered with two-time Emmy-winning choreographer Nick De Noia (Murray Bartlett) to further develop the show. But their divergent principles and egos clashed, culminating with Banerjee ordering a fatal hit on De Noia in 1987. Though this is a true story, Bloom wanted to take liberties with what was depicted on screen.
“My biggest concern was whether or not we’d be taking some artistic license with the show. Because ultimately it is a heart-wrenching American dream gone wrong. That was sort of the first thing I went in with,” he reveals. “Once I knew that [executive producers Robert Siegel and Jenni Konner] were on board and they wanted to take as many liberties as possible to tell this story of basically these two men with very different dreams and egos get in the way, and it goes horribly wrong — once I knew we could latch onto that and I had some freedom not to just recreate exactly things as they looked at the time — I got really excited about it. Obviously it’s set in such a surreal backdrop, the dancing is so much fun, but there’s a really dark, sinister undertone that creeps up on you throughout the season and it spirals out of control.”
Perhaps the biggest artistic license Bloom took was with the original Chippendales club itself in the Los Angeles area. Unlike the real thing, the show’s version is two stories, with Banerjee’s office on the second floor and a balcony walkway overlooking the circular stage on the ground floor. The second level also serves as a metaphor for Banerjee’s constant search for and quick rise to fame, fortune and status before it all comes crumbling down.
“I knew that with Steve’s character, he’s very money driven. There’s a lot of scenes in his office, so the very first thing that I pitched was a two-story club, which was not how it was in Culver City originally,” Bloom explains. “But I wanted to bring the nightclub into the office, so we have a lot of sequences — we wanted to bring the club in and bring the swirl in, and as go, there’s this background behind him that there’s always this movement and the disco ball and the light array. And I wanted it to feel a bit surreal because the story is pretty surreal.”
The L.A. club stands in contrast to the New York branch that De Noia oversees later on in the season. It’s in a theater on a traditional stage with a VIP area and a comparatively more upscale flair. “He’s at a real crossroads in his life. He’s coming out of the closet, he’s searching for some sort of artistic expression. We built him a mid-century house. He’s sort of living in the past, and when he transitions to New York, I wanted to go into an art deco-inspired world, which also leans heavily into the ‘80s deco thing, and you sort see that sort of infused into his performances,” Bloom notes. “He’s like a Broadway guy and that’s his dream, and he takes the club to a whole different level. He’s the real reason the show went on.”
The New York Chippendales show also went on with one of the series’ most notable dance numbers, Hunkenstein, a parody of Frankenstein. “That was so fun. We block-shot,” Bloom says. “It was such a fun time working with the choreographer and everyone to put together that set. The sets transform and we really start to show the juxtaposition between the L.A. club, where Steve is spending just bare bones to keep packing the house, versus Nick, who is going all out and ultimately takes the show on the road and we see the road tour as well, which is a lot of fun.”
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