I recall a point during my childhood when I was astonished by my Burger King doll. He wowed me every time he pulled the ol’ disappearing hamburger trick or his formidable magical scarf chicanery. Even though quite some time has passed, the same level of illusion surprisingly just doesn’t make me gasp in amazement anymore. Just a few years ago, while watching a Criss Angel marathon on A&E, I was transported into a world of new, more advanced illusions. The days of watching parlor tricks like “hey, i got your ear,” from that uncle who makes his hand look like its missing a finger were over. If I only had the nickle that was miraculously discovered behind my ear every time some salt and pepper haired guy in the family wanted to be funny. You know what? Nobody in my family actually did stuff like that but I always see it in movies and TV shows. My uncle used to blatantly slip large denominations of bills into my palm during a firm handshake. I’d say that was a helluva lot better than having to suffer through some dumb tricks and way more lucrative! Perhaps I looked to Criss Angel to fill the gaping void of hocus pocus in my life? I thought seeing his stage show Believe might do the trick.
Metuchen, NJ native David Copperfield doesn’t have Vegas making this much of a fuss over him as they do Criss Angel. Then again, Copperfield hasn’t levitated himself in the light of the Luxor pyramid like Angel has. Although Angel is unashamed to admit that he worships the antiquated ground Houdini walked on, his illusions inspire awe even in today’s skeptical world. Unlike Angel levitating above the Luxor pyramid, his stage show Believe never seemed to rise to the grand potential it truly believes it has. It’s merely a large scale production oozing of self indulgence, satiating all of Angel’s whims. I admire that Believe was a show he began writing 15 years ago, although it seems like the show he started writing back then became a very different one than what I witnessed on stage at the Luxor in Las Vegas on January 25th, 2009.
**A steel lock box was suspended by a wire in mid air about 30 feet above the stage as we made our way into the theater.
The curtains rose and a massive picture of Criss Angel’s big head is revealed. Now, when I write “big head” make no mistake, I am not talking about his ego, I’m literally telling you that his head was probably around 50 ft by 30 ft. Obviously his ego is way bigger than that. From there, a montage of Criss Angel’s “best of” moments aired on a huge screen on the stage. The crowd was sufficiently primed and Criss Angel added a personal touch by introducing the show himself.
His huge self-lovefest was the first hint at how disjointed Believe really is. The show doesn’t know what it wants to be partly because Criss Angel feels the need to fly by the seat of his leather pants and/or ripped jeans. Watching him do a Letterman style monologue before his ass-rapingly expensive Cirque Du Soliel show did not help suspend my disbelief. If he wants us to believe the events to follow, then he’s got to ixnay on his wacky late night intro. Next thing you know he’ll be sitting at a desk in front of a cardboard Vegas backdrop throwing a pencil into the camera. As difficult as it was to watch him struggle through all the lisping, he persevered and made it blatantly clear that he (was) schtupping Playboy’s Holly Madison (they’ve since split). Simply a strange intro to what was supposed to be a somewhat artful stage production.
Now, back to the aforementioned steel lock box was suspended above the stage. “I’m going to throw this wristband out to someone in the crowd” Angel alerted us. At least for me it wasn’t like catching one of Paul Stanley’s guitar picks or one of Leaping Lanny Poffo’s poetic Frisbees, but it seemed cool anyway. If someone was to win the Academy Award for Best Actress who acts like she still reads Bop and Tiger Beat, the winner would easily be my 30 going on 15 girlfriend. It was quite a sight to watch her beg, plead, flail her arms, jump up and down, and scream bloody murder “I Want it!” “Over Here!” This coming from the same girl who waited for New Kids on the Block to play at Rockefeller Center on The Today Show during a 24 hour downpour. Can you believe what women will do for Donnie Wahlberg? Wonder where they were when Donnie D. needed some sympathy after Boomtown got cancelled?
All the ladies in the huge crowd flipped out as NKOTB shouted “New York!” about 50 times. It was easy to grow depressed at Jordan Knight’s contagious melancholy because Matt, Meredith, and even Al Roker didn’t shove the microphone in his face. All the other New Kids were in demand that day, but not Jordan. He looked like the kid who got picked last for the kickball team in gym class. He did everything but put his head down and kick his foot into the dirt. “I went from season 3 of The Surreal Life to THIS?”
Perhaps Criss Angel could’ve riffed on the New Kids in his opening monologue now that Believe has turned into “Late Night with Criss Angel.” “Hey everybody whaddya say you give me a huge round of applause for having ripped abs? Now we’ll count down tonight’s Top 10! Here we go…ways I made Jordan Knight’s career disappear. Yep, that was me! I wanted to be on page 15 of Tiger Beat so I murdered any chance of a Jordan Knight resurgence. Hey guess what I’m going to later in the show tonight? I’m going to suspend myself upside down from the rafters in a straight jacket…now that’s what I call Hangin’ Tough BOO-YA!” (rimshot)
Getting back to the lady friend, let’s just use the phrase “she was a bit overzealous” because “determined” would be an understatement. Angel threw his wristband out to the crowd and a guy a few rows away caught it. Angel obviously didn’t want to deal with a dude because it’s always more fun to have a raving female lunatic fan stand up there and ogle him than some middle aged guy with a light blue corduroy shirt from Idaho with both hands in his pockets. “OK, now I want you to throw the wristband out to someone else in the crowd.” Angel was noticeably frustrated when yet another guy waaay in the back caught the wristband. This time, the guy was wearing a maroon button down, but seemed equally as boring and equally as MALE. “OK give it a really good throw,” Angel said. In fact, he pretty much said everything except “Please throw it to a f–ing girl, don’t you idiots get it?” If I was a super famous “illusionist” with a terrible lisp I wouldn’t beat around the bush as much as he does. At the beginning of the show I would say something more along the lines of “I need a girl to volunteer to help me.”
The old school magician cliche was in action. Was Angel just picking a female out of the crowd to be his assistant merely to cut her in half? From the moment Angel instructed the generic maroon button down guy to toss a hail Mary pass out to the crowd, the rest became a blur to me. All I could imagine was the thoughts going through my girlfriend’s head besides NKOTB, Jensen Ackles, and the next very special episode of One Tree Hill on the CW. All she could see was a black Criss Angel wristband cutting through the air in slow motion, the crowd muted as notes of “Chariots of Fire” seemed to have taken over the P.A system. Everyone’s eyes were transfixed on this very moment. Criss Angel’s eyes grew wide as he crossed his fingers in baited breath that another dude wouldn’t catch his damn wristband for a 3rd time. The milliseconds past like hours and after she had an atrial fibrillation, my girlfriend the only one standing up trying to catch the wristband, actually caught the wristband…what do ya know? All other aspects of life were unimportant by comparison. Bail outs, border scares, salmonella, and cease fires were mere nuisances when compared to a chance embrace with Criss Angel’s sweaty wristband.
“OK, come on over here,” said Criss Angel as he stood in the aisle to the right of us. After possibly having a stroke and exchanging pleasantries, my gf explained to Criss that she was “so nervous” as if she was unprepared before having to present a keynote speech explaining the diverse and evolving roles of isotopes in nuclear fission before the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “I need you to say a word, the first word that pops into your head, don’t think about it just say it.” Jon Stewart pulled that on me one time when I was in the audience at the Daily Show. My answer was “Boner,” not the euphemism for hard-on but in my warped, ’80s pop culture riddled mind, Boner Stubbone. Stewart signed one of his books that I brought with me “To Jay: BONER!” I try to provide quality entertainment when called upon, even when I’m not prepared. I was proud of her, because in a similar fashion, she also attempted to provide some comic relief to an otherwise novocained crowd. I heard someone in the crowd yell “DO SOME FUCKING TRICKS SCHMUCK!” and another spectator held up a sign that said “WE CAME FOR THE MAGIC NOT THE WITTY BANTER.” OK OK, so I’m stretching the truth. At least I’m being honest about my lie and not like the elaborate one that kicks off the show. Angel gets fried to death by an electrical stunt gone bad.
“Tell me the word” Angel commands. “Armpit!” she yells. The crowd chuckles, and maybe even a few guffaws. Either way there was way too much laughing going on for just an utterance of the word “Armpit.” Imagine how many under the breath laughs I get when I have to verbally tell people what my site is called! Even Angel got a kick out of it or so I thought, “You know, I’m not laughing because you said Armpit, I’m laughing because it reminded me of a dream I had last night.” “I was with Holly (blatant Holly Madison mention #12 and it’s only 4 minutes into the show!) and it had something to do with armpits but I won’t get into since there might be children here.” Hold on here Lispy McLisperson, I do the jokes around here…you do the magic! Strangely, Angel went on to drop the term “axillism,” which refers to the sexual attraction to armpits. Angel’s awareness of that term and his slipping it into his sentence with such ease can only mean that Angel is PITFREAK, not a Mindfreak. I’m almost positive that’s why Holly has since moved on.
Next, Angel asks one of his minions to fetch him the mysterious steel lock box for him. The box is lowered and the minions bring it over to The Great Karnak, I mean Criss Angel. He opens the box and takes out a folded piece of white paper. He unfolds the paper and holds it up for the audience to see:
Yes, ARMPIT was scrawled on the paper in heavy black marker. It was awesome. I’ve speculated on how he could pulled this off but it can’t change the fact that the entire audience gasped when he unfolded the paper and revealed the magic word.
Even though that was an awesome trick, the thought you’ll leave the theater with is that “those were some f’n gigantic rabbits.” Rabbits served as an underlying theme of the show. Using another cliche, that magicians pull rabbits from their hats, Angel seemed to have given the audience the illusion that they’re tripping on LSD. There were weird looking characters and oversized rabbits all over the place.
The main problem with Believe is that it lacked cohesion. The show morphs into various different styles of stage production. First, as I detailed, the odd introduction, then the audience gets swerved. After we think Angel is “dead,” we weave in and out of the dreamlike Cirque Du Soleil aspect of the show. An actual plot would serve Believe well. As it is now, Believe unfolds as if it’s a bunch of different otherworldly scenes that Angel thought would “look cool.” The visuals were accompanied by a soundtrack that could’ve been comprised of outtakes from Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation album. I heard plenty of industrial sounds, and hard rock riffs but the music sounded dated. As awful as they are, Angel should’ve incorporated more of his own original hard rock songs into the soundtrack.
Believe does deserve credit for attempting at all costs to stand out from the shitpile of magic shows that make up Las Vegas. Not only does Believe give a valiant effort, but it was actually mildly entertaining. I just keep thinking how I might have been more entertained by watching Angel go around the audience guessing women’s age and weight. Perhaps a little “Late Night with Criss Angel” IS the way to go? I would appreciate a more streamlined, straight up live illusion show from Angel. His A&E show is popular because it’s Angel showing off his illusions, not prancing around with large monsters, costumed dance troupes, and rabbits on steroids. But I suppose he refrained from putting on a typical magic show because that would make him just like the rest of the mid-card Vegas magicians.
Angel teaming with Cirque Du Soliel seemed like the logical winning formula for a show in Vegas. Rather than have his name attached to Cirque du Soliel, I think Angel would be better off using his own name and putting on a show without Cirque. I’m sure he needed the monetary backing but consider that he has such a hardcore following and many of his fans may not be into watching dancers dressed up as robotic plush bunnies. They want to see some mind blowing magic, like the kind my old Burger King doll used to do.
I was hoping that Believe would redeem Angel. After the last debacle where they cancelled previews of Believe, I was left disillusioned. This show made matters worse. At one point, the show was stopped for several minutes because a dancer got caught as she was being “spawned” by Angel. I thought they cancelled those previews in order to work out kinks like that? Even a personalized Sexy Armpit stunt didn’t make me feel fully indemnified. Word has it that Criss Angel has signed on to do the show at the Luxor for 10 years, but I don’t know if I can Believe it’s going to last that long.