Illusionist Criss Angel celebrated the 5th Anniversary of Criss Angel Believe this week at the Luxor Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas (Pictured: Criss, joined by his beautiful fiancé Sandra, celebrate Criss Angel Believe’s 5th anniversary – Photo credit: Cashman Photo).
I was invited to attend the 5th anniversary show but reluctant to go because I’d read several negative reviews. I noticed that these reviews had one thing in common, though; they were written by die-hard fans of Angel’s hit TV show Criss Angel MindFreak. Apparently his MindFreak fans assume that Believe will include stunts like Angel getting run over by a bulldozer. Or Angel driving into a brick wall at 100 mph. Or Angel getting blown up.
I’m reasonably sure that no bulldozers are ever allowed in Luxor’s magnificent Believe theater. So let’s keep in mind that MindFreak allows Angel to use video effects, special props, confederates and even human oddities to create mind-blowing effects. Angel and his TV crew get plenty of time to create, prepare, rehearse, tape and edit footage that will ultimately produce just a few seconds of amazing TV. But he can’t use resources like that in a live show. So forget MindFreak. Let’s evaluate Criss Angel’s live performance in Believe.
The show begins with an opening act: a pint-sized magician named Maestro and a motley crew of Cirque du Soleil-type assistants who do a little comedy magic, priming the audience for Angel’s dramatic appearance as he floats through the air to the stage. Once Angel takes command, Maestro becomes his sidekick.
Angel’s assistants (including one beautiful young lady) help move things along and often involve themselves in the effects. Some very creative choreography by the entire cast provides ongoing misdirection that allows Angel to vanish and appear at will – and in the most unusual places. Substitution effects (where Angel and another person instantly exchange places) are repeated throughout the show.
Angel’s forte is illusions with wildly unexpected results. A standard trick like the Cups & Balls gets elevated to a new dimension as Angel produces cups so large that people appear and disappear under them. Then as Angel talks to the audience, a big monster comes out and chases everyone around the stage. But when the monster removes its head, it turns out to be Angel himself. Suddenly your mind tries to replay the last couple of minutes to sort out what may have happened but it’s no use. Angel has already moved on to another stunning effect.
Most of the show is captured by a live video camera and projected onto a huge screen lowered from the rafters when necessary. You’ll appreciate this if you’re sitting in the back of the 1600-seat Believe theater. Using this setup, Angel does some classic close-up magic including swallowing thread and razor blades, then regurgitating them with the blades tied to the thread.
Angel’s dove production routine begins innocently enough until a dove tossed into the air turns into a white ribbon that darts all over the theater, then directly into a waiting birdcage where it becomes a live bird again. A moment later a flock of real birds flies through the theater. Throughout the show you keep thinking, “Wow, what’s he going to do next?”
On this night Angel was working with an injured shoulder (he’ll be taking off a couple of months early next year to get it repaired) but you wouldn’t know it. One of his tricks was a Houdini classic: escaping from a straight jacket while hanging upside down over the audience. Angel brought the effect up several notches by spinning violently as he made the escape.
Now tell me, which do you think is more dangerous? Sitting at a video editing machine or hanging upside down thirty feet above the audience with no safety net?
Angel devotes considerable time to randomly selecting volunteers from the audience. His first attempt failed, however. He tossed out a wristband hoping to have a random guest catch it but the wristband landed under some seats and couldn’t be found, even by the ushers. He tried again with a small rabbit doll. Tossing this doll around resulted in the selection of three volunteers (two of them children — no stooges in this show). Simple enough but it turned into one of his best effects. Angel asked the first volunteer for her name, the second for the city he lived in, and the third her favorite number. At that point the audience’s attention was directed to a small box that had been hanging from a rope in plain view throughout the show. Upon opening the box, a large folded piece of paper was removed. Printed in large letters were the same name, city and number given by the volunteers.
One of the things that makes this show so dramatic and interesting is its use of huge mechanical props such as sinister-looking machines capable of ripping bodies apart. But a trick that left me scratching my head was a “sawing the lady in half” illusion that never resolved into a “putting the lady back together” illusion. The sawing effect was spectacular and bloody but the assistants simply pulled the two halves of the lady off opposite ends of the stage. At first I thought something went wrong but now I think this effect was simply a nod to MindFreak – and a reminder that not all Criss Angel illusions have logic conclusions.
Angel delivers one jaw-dropping effect after another at a breathtaking pace, and with an energy level and audience involvement that makes the show even more fun and exciting.
And on October 30 he celebrated his 5th anniversary by performing one of the best magic shows I’ve seen in Las Vegas.