Monday, Dec. 17, 2018 | 2 a.m.
It’s crunch time for Criss Angel. After originally planning to launch his all-new “Mindfreak” magical spectacle at Planet Hollywood on December 19, the veteran Vegas performer has pushed the date for preview shows to December 26. Why? The show is massive, packed with never-before-seen illusions, effects and technological advancements in staging and theatrical presentation, and he’s not raising the curtain until everything is in order. Those with tickets to the affected shows can exchange them or seek refunds at original points of purchase.
There’s no doing things halfway with Angel. Before he came to fame as a headliner on the Strip, he created his own brand via hugely popular TV show “Mindfreak,” the first two season of which were filmed at the Planet Hollywood showroom that has been renamed the Criss Angel Theater for his new show. When he started his 10-year contract with Cirque du Soleil at the Luxor in 2008, he refused to rest on his laurels and was constantly pushing to update and improve that original show, “Believe.” After assuming creative control and refashioning the Luxor production into “Mindfreak Live” in 2016, Angel continued to develop new illusions he couldn’t fit into his show, many of which will be seen for the first time at the new “Mindfreak” this month.
And when his time at Luxor was over, Angel turned down a lucrative offer to tour the world for nine months in order to create a new Vegas show that features more surface area of video than any other production in the world, 500 million pixels of content, 900 feet of LED strips across the theater ceiling creating an immersive experience, and more lights, 4K projectors and sound technology than any show on the Strip.
“We are really embracing technology in a way no show in Las Vegas up to this point has ever done. It’s the latest and greatest and it will be a visual feast,” he says. “This theater is not the optimum theater, technically, to do the show, but I love it because it’s more intimate yet it has about the same seating capacity [as Luxor]. We had to re-engineer and re-design the structure of the theater to house the show.”
Angel demolished the existing stage and fitted his own customized stage to the space, fabricated in his local workshop and headquarters. The experience starts well before guests make it to the theater as the lobby will house a magic and merch shop framed by a hologram of Angel; photos of celebrity friends and memorabilia, some of which will come to life; the Evolution Bar serving Angel-themed drinks; and other interactive elements designed to be shared on social media.
“It’s about taking the virtual world and the real world and combining them together,” says Angel, who developed innovative partnerships with several different companies to get access to the gear used in the show’s staging. “This is the only show that has fire effects that are also tornadoes. There’s stuff in this show we’re premiering for different companies, giving a different opportunity to showcase what they do instead of spending a few days at a convention. These are really incredible companies beta testing all this stuff because they see what we’re doing is taking the product to a new level.”
Angel is the first to admit that it’s “pretty insane, what we’re trying to accomplish.” His team has been forced to hire extra staff and fly them to Las Vegas to write new code to make all the elaborate video presentations work together, although permitting delays also played a part in the date change for the previews. But there’s no doing things halfway when you’re trying to push the envelope in the entertainment capital of the world.
“I’m working as hard as I can and I have an incredible team [working] 24-7 to try to create the most incredible experience not just in the magic world, but in the entertainment world of Las Vegas,” he says. “Hopefully this is something that will elevate the entertainment experience in Las Vegas. I want this to be the first show that integrates all these incredible technologies with the most mind-blowing magic that will really make people feel emotion.”
Here’s the rest of my conversation with Angel, whose new “Mindfreak” will be performed Wednesday through Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Criss Angel Theater at Planet Hollywood beginning on December 26 and will celebrate its grand opening gala on January 19.
I was going to ask if the new show is an extension of what you’ve accomplished at Luxor or if it’s a new direction, but taking the tour of your theater has answered that question.
It’s all-new. It’s like an artist having hit songs, when you go see a live band, you want to hear those songs. I’ve got to do certain things but there are tremendous amounts of new illusions, new magic, everything has been reworked and the presentation is going to be something completely brand new. There are over 75 different illusions, maybe more, and a good chunk is brand new. People will still see me fly around and levitate and maybe they’ll float out of their seats, too.
You’ve been working on some of this material for a long time.
Some, almost 20 years. Some of it is a long time in the making. Even though the previous run was more than 10 years at Luxor, I still wasn’t able to really do to the extent I would like and what I had in my mind. I had certain parameters for different reasons. Here, I’m the executive producer, I’m the writer, I’m the director and I own the show. If the show sinks it’s my fault, and if it’s successful it’s my fault.
What’s it like to be at a Strip property where there are other headliners?
It’s great. Zappos Theater produces some of the most incredible acts and artists and to be associated with a venue that’s known for the greatest entertainment in the world at one of Caesars’ properties, it’s fantastic. And I know a lot of these people personally and it’s cool to have friends playing in the same location. Being here is being at the heart of the Strip in the entertainment capital of the world and the location is amazing. The last 13 years of my life has been amazing, performing live here, and I’d never be the creative force or performer I am today without that experience. It really honed my skills and made me evolve and transform as an artist and human being.
When you were finishing up at Luxor, did you consider leaving Las Vegas?
Yeah, actually I had an enormous offer on the table to tour for nine months. But it’s not about money for me. I want to create an experience for the audience like they’ve never had in their lives. You can’t really do that on the road when you’re doing one-nighters or even a couple days. You’re limited. I’m never motivated by money, I’m motivated by creating art that elevates my game, that challenges me and creates the passion and excitement in me to want to be up 21 hours a day working on this.
You could have created a different version of your show that didn’t cost as much or require this much work, but you’re committed to helping elevate the overall entertainment experience in Las Vegas.
It has become a little complacent because no one is pushing the envelope, no one is making people reach down deep inside and be the best they can be. If you’re successful doing what you’ve done for 20 or 25 years, why would you change? But life is death without change. I want to hopefully be the show that initiates real change and real development because the ultimate winner in that is the public. They deserve the best. If they’re coming to Vegas and spending their hard-earned money, as entertainers and artists it’s our responsibility to be the most sophisticated, technological and entertaining show in the world. We are the entertainment capital of the world and we have to personify that.