By Brittany Santos
Having a show in Vegas is a cutthroat thing. And in this day and age of Internet reviews, Criss Angel and his show Believe have really been put through the ringer. Many a Yelper has panned his show since its debut at the Luxor. The bad reviews may be, in part perhaps, of preconceived notions about the show. Yes, it does say Cirque Du Soleil in front of the title Believe, but that is part of the problem. When Believe first opened, legions of Criss fans were disappointed with the Cirque influence. Tales of dead bunnies on the stage and an all-too-dark portrayal of this rock-influenced magician were a bit of a public relations disaster for the Mindfreak star. Cirque and Criss worked to retool the show and now the show is much more of a Mr. Angel show, rather than its previous Cirque acrobatic display. Yet it just may be the very lack of Cirque elements that has led to the snarky comments from disappointed Cirque fans who may feel letdown when they find those usual elements missing. But don’t feel too bad for the guy – the night I saw the show, the crowd was entranced, enthralled, and very happy to be there.
Magic is the stuff that dreams are made of. Houdini told his wife on his deathbed that many will claim that they can talk to him in the afterlife, and if that were a true possibility, he would give them a secret word that only she and she alone would know, in order to identify if they were really talking to him beyond the grave. That word was: believe. It is only fitting that Criss Angel used this as a title to his smash hit Luxor show. His career has been just as legendary as Houdini’s. In fact, this year on Halloween, (the anniversary of the death of the iconic Houdini), Criss will be celebrating a historic 5 years/2,100 performances of Believe. The show is officially the best-selling magic show worldwide. And with a new television show set to premiere on Oct. 15th, Criss’s career is looking bigger and better than ever.
Most of us have gotten to know this unique magician from his hit TV show that originally aired on A&E called Mindfreak. His stunts on the show were unique and brought a new flavor of magic to the frontline of entertainment. His signature rock star magician style brings a Metallica type feel to the typical magic trick that say a Lance Burton used to put on at the Monte Carlo here in Vegas. Criss’s A&E series is the most successful magic show in broadcast history. It’s no surprise to his many fans. The show itself is still broadcasting to over 100 million viewers in over 90 countries. If you are not a fan and happened to view Vegas magicians in the same way as the Hollywood elite who elected to make that mess of a movie, Burt Wonderstone, don’t lump Criss in with the attitude and way in which Jim Carey portrayed the Criss wannabe in that terrible film. Criss’s style, in no way, matches the character that Carey concocted. The biggest contrast was the evil-spirited way in which they wrote his character. Criss’s non-profit volunteer work and his personal image is a stark contrast to wild-haired Carey in Wonderstone.
Criss’s generosity and philanthropy are very well known. He is an active volunteer for the Boys & Girls Club, as well as the Make a Wish Foundation. He also has founded his own charity with his two brothers, created as homage to their late father called “The Believe Foundation”. His non-profit is dedicated to making “Magic” for children who are underprivileged or suffering from devastating illnesses. When you first enter the room to see his show, there are many drop boxes available for fans to donate to his cause.
Before I get going on what the show experience was like, I am going to have to issue the following warning: SPOILER ALERT! Magic is, after all, about the element of surprise.
This first thing that hits you when heading into the show is all the motorcycles. Criss has quite the collection and each one is displayed in glass cases in the lobby of his showroom. The night that we attended there was quite a crowd, so I didn’t get to take it all in quite the way I wanted to. The walls of the lobby are lined with numerous memorabilia and photos of Criss throughout his career. Upon entering the theater you are inserted into a magical fantasy realm in which you see a lot of gothic touches, as well as some crazy imagery of rabbits throughout the place. First, you encounter this mechanical bunny, pulling yet another hare out of its hat. Then your eyes are guided to this big white bunny on stage next to an old-time phonograph record player that is in the spotlight for some reason. There is just a misty, eerie feel to the whole place when you walk in, and it perfectly sets you in mood for the show you are about to witness. Then, as if on cue, comes the Cirque du Soleil part of the show. Three performers sneakily creep into the theater early, hoping that most of the audience hasn’t noticed their arrival. From our seats I saw them as soon as they walked in. I saw the guy from the poster which is displayed throughout the Luxor; a weird motorcycle-riding dude with a big mohawk; and finally a portly rounded man; who all position themselves dead center in one of the front rows. Myself, and a few others seated close to the performers, saw them come into the audience, but most were still taking in the beauty of their surroundings and the three were able to sneak in without many even knowing that they were there. It was only when the spotlight swung in their direction and we heard a phone ringing that most notice the trio was even there in the first place. Who was on the phone? Why, Criss Angel, of course. He was running late. And always the gentlemen, he didn’t want to leave his audience bored and he asked Maestro (the fellow in the middle of the three, wearing the fedora) to entertain the crowd in the meantime. This, in turn, developed into some funny banter, in which the small Mexican magician declared, “Criss’s show is shit! I won’t do it.” After some eager encouragement from those watching, he finally jumps on stage and does a quick magic show of his own. His show isn’t mind-blowing, but it was gut-busting. Many jokes, goofy tricks, and a bit with an onstage dummy who begins to pee on the audience, ensue.
When things are getting a bit out of control, and just maybe a little too off-color for some younger viewers, Criss steps in. Saying he steps in isn’t quite accurate. Actually, it’s extremely inaccurat – after all, we are talking about Criss. He dramatically arrives from the sky in perfect Mindfreak fashion. He gets the Maestro off the stage and the thunderous performance begins. One of the best parts of the whole thing was the loud music, which reverberates through the whole room. As a fan of his A&E series, I found the rock-stylized soundtrack to be perfect, as were the jokes that his zany sidekicks made by saying: “Are you ready? Are you ready?” Criss seemed to handle the ribbing well. The rest of the show progressed with non-stop illusions, humor, and fun.
There are feats of the mind in which Criss comes up with answers from the audience, only to reveal a note with the exact answers in a locked trunk hanging from high above the stage. There are tricks with sleight of hand, and many a time where Criss would disappear only to appear in jaw-dropping places.
At one point during the show, Criss waxes nostalgic about his roots and how he became a magician in the first place. He shares many images from his past and talks about how supportive and instrumental his family was in him achieving success as a magician. My favorite photo was one he shared of his mother. It was in an early magic show. She volunteered to be his assistant, and her son was levitating her. I found hearing about his back-story fascinating. Becoming a magician is a risky proposition, and to be successful in the field has to be one of the hardest sectors in the entertainment industry in which to make a name for yourself.
After sharing memories with the audience, Criss continued the show. Many illusions followed my favorite, being one that he does with a flock of doves that seem to appear out of nowhere and fly over the audience, just inches from our heads. He also does his own take on the classic magician trick of sawing his assistant in half, but with a bit of a gruesome twist. It was a fun ride, and not once did we figure out just how he did it. There were
a few minutes during the show in which I felt the illusion coming, yet in the end, how, and the way he did it, still took my friend and I by surprise.
After getting the chance to see Believe, it is safe to say, that we at STRIPLV are now big “believers” in Criss and can’t wait to see what new illusions he will bring to light on his new Spike TV show. The first season will feature 11 one-hour episodes. Criss plans on defeating new challenges and creating bigger and grander illusions than he has ever attempted before.
One of the feats that will be featured in the Spike TV show that premiers this month is an escape attempt that only one other illusionist tried to perform, but lost his life in the process. Criss was bound with 8 American padlocks, 10 pounds of chain, Smith and Wesson handcuffs, and leg irons, then placed in a translucent casket. Once inside, he was then lowered into an above ground grave that was see-through on all sides. Once placed in the grave, wet cement was poured all around him. Time was his enemy as 20,000 pounds of cement was drying around him, and the air for him to breathe was slowly dissipating. The stunt was performed at midnight, just outside the Luxor, and thousands turned up to see if Chris could do it. He attempted this feat after working a 20-hour workday. He had been filming since 6am with Spike TV, and then performed to sold-out performances of Believe before entering the wet cement grave. Thankfully, and who knows how, Criss emerged from his tomb unharmed. After the stunt, he told Robin Leach: “This escape was completely a different beast than anything I’ve ever faced in my career. I must admit that I was scared and underestimated the magnitude. I’m so relieved that it’s over. I dedicate it to all those magicians and escape artists who lost their life attempting to do what no one has done.”
If you want to see what else this Mindfreak will try next, tune into Spike TV this month for the premier and to see what else he has lined up for the series. Then plan on visiting his showroom at the Luxor the next time you are in town. Are you ready? (Sorry had to say it at least one more time).
CRISS ANGEL FACTS:
• Criss’s “Building Implosion” episode of Mindfreak drew a crowd that police estimated at 50,000 (the biggest crowd for any magician, rivaling Houdini).
• He is also the most watched magician on YouTube. His “Walk on Water” video has been viewed over 46 million views. All of his YouTube video clips combined have received over 200 million views worldwide.
• Criss was named “Magician of the Year” at the Magic Castle, an unprecedented 6 times more than any other magician.
• He has performed more hours of magic on prime time television than any other magician in the history of television.
• His Facebook and Twitter pages have more likes/followers than any other magician.
• Criss was also given the award of “Wish Granter for the Year” in 2010 by the Make a Wish Foundation.
CRISS ANGEL - BELIEVE
Luxor Las Vegas Tue, Fri and Sat: 7pm and 9:30pm, Wed and Thu 7pm
877-826-0255 or 702-262-4400 • Luxor.com/Entertainment