The Full Muchachos

In the melodramatic world of the Latin-American soap opera known as the telenovela, a threatening villain and a scheming, evil woman always stand in the way of true love. Cold-hearted family members, corrupt officials, mysterious diseases, and endless cases of mistaken identity all conspire to keep the innocent heroine away from her handsome, if hapless, suitor. Night after night, telenovelas fuel the fantasies of many a lonely heart. If that sappy heroine only would get out of the picture and leave the gallant gentleman to me. If only he would take me in his arms ... and take off all his clothes. Or what if the leather-clad villain grabs me in a rough embrace?

Soap stars Sergio Mayer and Alexis Ayala hit upon the money-making idea of walking off the television screen and dancing out the fantasies of their most devoted fans. Rounding up nine other small-screen pretty boys and tough guys, some of whom graduated from the bubble-gum pop bands Menudo and Garibaldi, Mayer and Ayala created the male review Solo Para Mujeres (Just for Women). The show has drawn fire from conservatives in Mexico, but the picket lines have not stopped more than half a million women from enjoying the extravaganza. Over lunch on South Beach, Mayer sums up the production's success: “We've broken all the taboos.

“Everything is done to fulfill a woman's fantasy,” he continues. Each number is choreographed around a different titillating scenario by Debi Hawley, known for her work with Janet Jackson and Garibaldi. “We have numbers where we come out dressed as monks, or as sailors, or as waiters,” says Mayer. The group even reprises the best of disco dressup with a Latin version of the Village People's “Macho Man.”

The actors' most scintillating role, however, is as their own soap-opera personas, up-close and unclothed. The studs specialize in pouty looks and romantic gazes. Juan Carlos Casasola, a mustachioed muscleman known for his work as a villain, says, “I play the bad boy. The one women think might hit them.” No matter how dangerous he looks, Casasola says audience members open up to him during the postshow autograph sessions. “They come up onstage and tell you what you bring to their lives,” he recounts. “Sometimes they tell you how their husbands don't show them any affection anymore or how it's been a long time since anyone has touched them.”

Harking toward happier days, Mayer describes the show as “a great big bachelorette party.” In Mexico the event is strictly girls night out. “If men come they have to dress as women,” says Mayer. “Otherwise the women whistle and scream and chase them away.” When the show comes to Miami Beach, will it still be, ahem, just for women? Shifting in his seat, the Mexican impresario measures his words carefully: “If gay men come to have a good time, then welcome. I can't be more open than that.”

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Celeste Fraser Delgado