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March 20, 2019

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Q+A, Part 1: Criss Angel says ‘Mindfreak Live!’ at Luxor is ‘ready to go’

Criss Angel

The cast of Criss Angel’s “Mindfreak Live!” is shown outside Angel’s headquarters and warehouse in Las Vegas.

New ‘Mindfreak Live!’ by Criss Angel

The new production ‘Mindfreak Live!’ by Criss Angel at the Luxor. Launch slideshow »

Criss Angel

Criss Angel

After several years of defying death on his hit A&E series “Mindfreak,” master illusionist Criss Angel is now about to perform even more dangerous and mystifying stunts for the stage-show version he’s ready to launch at the Luxor.

Concerns over safety prompted Fire Department officials and Cirque du Soleil execs to request him to delay last night’s previews until they are certain that his cast and crew are prepared and insurance coverage can be fully in place.

I’ve already seen the run-through at his 60,000-square-foot factory and watched various scenes during my backstage tour with Criss last weekend. I can tell you that this is his best work ever, the top magic show of all time.

Criss has been working nearly around the clock with just three hours of sleep a night to pull off this magic miracle. What should have taken a few years to perfect Criss achieved in three weeks, since April 20 when the last remnants of “Believe” were hauled out and new lights for “Mindfreak Live” were loaded in.

“After seven years of ‘Believe,’ that became a dinosaur compared to what ‘Mindfreak Live!’ will present,” he told Bloomberg. Bloomberg reported that “Believe” generated $70 million a year, with the biggest sales of any magic show in Las Vegas.

But Criss wanted to show that the illusions he pulled off onscreen could be done live onstage, too. To reinforce the point, he told me: “This time we have 50 illusions in 90 minutes of show time. It’s way beyond what we did on the television series. This is already Criss Angel of tomorrow.”

I sat backstage in his Luxor dressing room office suite over the weekend to talk with him, and he gave me an expansive tour of the new stage. We started by talking about the delay that shifts his previews from last night to a new date expected to be known by the end of this week.

Skeptics will say it’s just to buy you extra time because there has to be trouble?

Trouble is actually a good thing for a magician, but here it’s the most sophisticated, not only as a magic show ever to be performed in the history of the art, but it’s probably the most sophisticated, technological show in Las Vegas.

We have 3D immersion. We have nine screens that project images. We have over 1,000 lighting instruments. We have the craziest illusions, costumes, brand new pyrotechnics in the show, state-of-the-art lasers. We’re doing something with lasers that ‘s never been done before.

We’re doing something that is revolutionary. I believe it’s going to shake up and change the game in the world of magic. It’s a whole new approach. When Cirque or most shows open, they have two or three years to put it together. I had three months to put it together physically. One illusion took four months to put together.

It’s the time that it takes to get certain permits. We built items in the theater that need to be permitted. We have new pyrotechnics, which need to go through fire marshals. There are things that are out of my control, the bureaucracy of putting a show together.

You don’t know all of the elements, and you’re figuring things out, then, “Oh, no, we need a permit, we need engineering, we need that signed off” because everybody has to cover their ass.

When will you start previews? Do you have a new date?

It will be announced I think this week. Two dates are being tossed around. This week, we will have a definitive date. They wanted you to hold off on everything until then.

What is different about this new show than “Believe” in terms of your approach toward the show and magic itself?

This is a brand new show. This is not a refresh. Everything is completely new. Everything is completely different. The approach just conceptually with how I’m presenting the illusions. The cast in how I utilize them.

Forget about the illusions themselves or the fact that we have lasers, 3D immersion and nine surfaces that we’re utilizing to have images play on, or the pyrotechnics, or the brand new music soundtrack. The whole approach to showing magic is unique and different.

“Believe” was a great show that fulfilled its mission for people to see Criss Angel perform incredible illusions and have an intimacy with me. But Criss Angel was one-dimensional. It didn’t give me an opportunity to flourish and show people what I’m really capable of as an actor, artist and creator. This show gives me the opportunity to show the evolution of Criss Angel.

People will see different forms in different eras of Criss Angel that perform in this show with a very different look, presentation and what the feeling and experience will be.

This is as if it is somebody completely different with a different name coming to the Luxor and launching a different show. It’s a brand new show, even though I had “Believe” and “Mindfreak.” They’re two different shows other than that I created and directed them.

‘The Supernaturalists’ By Criss Angel

“The Supernaturalists” by Criss Angel. Launch slideshow »

'Believe' by Criss Angel and Cirque du Soleil

Launch slideshow »

Criss Angel's Birthday and 1,000th Believe Show

Criss Angel's birthday and 1,000th Believe performance at the Luxor on Dec. 11, 2010. Launch slideshow »

But in a sense, this is the “Mindfreak” T show and not the Cirque invention?

It’s even beyond the TV show. It’s the TV show, it’s Criss Angel from the ’90s, it’s Criss Angel from now, it’s Criss Angel tomorrow, it’s all different elements of Criss Angel throughout the course of my career. It’s the evolution of me, from when I was born to when I got into magic.

To all the highlights and all the trends that I got into or approaches that I was doing magic, it’s all of those things wrapped up into 90 minutes. Coupled with the most spectacular, revolutionary illusions, lasers, lighting, 3D immersion, graphics, video. It’s all of that integrated into a seamless show.

There’s more magic in this show than any magic show that I’m aware of in the history of the art. There are over 50 illusions in this show. Over 50 in 90 minutes. I’m probably going to be a little long, and I’ve done that by design because I wanted to listen to the audience and see what people connect to and what people might not like as much. I have a kill ratio built into it like I do with my TV series.

In these illusions, were you able to do something on this stage now that you couldn’t do in “Believe”?

I get to do the levitation that I’ve been working on for 18 years. I’ve been dreaming about doing this live. I get to do that, I get to do my new, crazy revolutionary cutting in half.

Explain the difference between the cutting in half that you’re going to do here and the cutting in half that you did with the princess in “Believe”?

The old cutting in half, which was great, was basically my third rendition of that illusion in trying to get the design and try to become as flawless as it possibly can be. It sat on a 9,000-pound structure, a tremendous, mega piece. But it had its limitations.

The new design, which is now the sixth incarnation, has about $2 million rolled up into the one illusion. Now it’s sexy, it’s sleek, it’s simple, but it’s much more impactful because of the statement and how I surround that illusion. The storyline, the tableau, is much more engaging.

This is not about me coming out and presenting puzzles of how I do things like every other magician has done and continues to do. This is about getting the audience immersed and in an experience that takes them somewhere that goes beyond magic.

There’s something more to the magic than just a trick. It’s the magic of emotion; it’s about the images that are created and the roller-coaster ride that they go on because they never know what’s going to happen next. It’s scary, it’s sexy, it’s seductive, it’s creepy, it’s funny, it’s heartwarming. There’s something in this show for everyone.

The magic gets inside their emotions?

Absolutely. I’ll take a gamble and say that probably at least 50 to 60 percent of the audience will shed a tear from the excitement and emotions. I’m able to provoke that by bringing my personal life into this show. This is really exposing and allowing myself as a human being to be vulnerable.

To allow the audience, who knows me, to get to know more about me that they never knew, and for those people who might not know who Criss Angel is, to understand who I am and to feel a connection with me and to understand why I’m doing what I’m doing onstage. It’s part of the evolution of my career.

Despite the delay, you’ve already run the show?

We have run the show. We keep on working diligently at tweaking it. To give you the magnitude of it right now, this building, this theater, is operating 23 hours a day. Around the clock, people are working on this show. Seven days a week, 23 hours a day, this show is the priority.

What time are you here in the morning?

I get up between 5 and 6:30 a.m. I do my workout because this show is incredibly demanding, more demanding than anything I’ve ever done in my life. I do a 90-minute workout, then start my day depending on what it is — if I need to go to my studios to work on material.

Eventually, I make my way over here no later than 10 a.m. I do training for my new levitation, and by 1 p.m. we have the full cast here. We’re running and staging the show without stopping except for a meal break.

Until when? Midnight?

I don’t leave here until probably 2:30 to 3 a.m. Then I do the whole thing all over again the next day. I’m sleeping right now between two and four hours a night.

I don’t know if that’s enough sleep for you?

My adrenaline is going crazy because when I’m here and working, I never want it to end. I have my family, my mom and my brother here. Other people, friends and people who I trust, just watch the process, and I see how excited they are and how excited about what I’m going to be presenting.

Even they are saying this is completely a whole new Criss Angel. This is something that not only have we not seen from me, but we’ve never seen anything like this from any other magician.

If people come to see my show, then other magic shows in town, they will realize how outdated they are. I don’t say that to be conceited. I say that because of my confidence because I work my ass off harder than anybody and because of Cirque and the theater and all of the incredible people I have working for me.

We are able to bring something to the stage that’s very special. I don’t think anybody is going to come close to topping this for many, many years because they would have to have the resources, theater, team, ability to have things at their disposal like I have. That’s not an easy thing to do, and it took me a lifetime to get to this point.

How many people do you have working on this show? How long did it take you from while you were still performing “Believe” to get to this stage with the new show?

Right now, directly and indirectly, I would say over 200. The thing about “Believe,” it was incredibly challenging because I would come here in the morning, work until show time, then do two “Believe” shows, so we weren’t able to fully engage the new show because we couldn’t remove certain things or change things because that night we had to do “Believe” again.

We really had to get through our final performance of “Believe,” which was a spectacular night, then load out “Believe,” which took three days, then load in “Mindfreak Live!,” which started immediately.

Final things are still being built as we speak. I won’t have some things for another two weeks. It’s getting really, really close. I have people from Hungary working on video content for me. I have people from California living in my house, living in the studios, working around the clock. Considering what we’re creating and the time frame, it seems nuts. But it comes so easy.

People watch my creativity, and they go, “How did you just come up with that?” I’ll give you an example: A lot of the work I do in my studio, but some of the work I can’t because I don’t have the height to do certain things. I didn’t want to do the sawing in half the way I used to do. I wanted to do something different because it’s a new apparatus, it’s a new piece of music. It’s the whole thing.

I was sitting here, and, because of a technical reason, I wanted to fly this thing 20 to 30 feet from the air down with a girl on it. We needed some type of sheet to cover this thing up. So, yesterday, I came up with a sheet that evolves into a bed, into a dream, into this girl having this dream in this beautiful environment, but quickly it transforms into a nightmare.

When the sheets and the canopy get pulled off, the bed becomes this torture device. Then her nightmare comes to fruition once she literally gets ripped into two pieces, very much like I did the park bench but for stage.

So the skeptics who watch the park bench and think, “Oh, well that’s trick photography.” Well, to answer that B.S., people now can come see the show and see what I do on television is no different than what I can do live onstage.

How many are in the cast of the new show?

We have incredible world-class athletes and entertainers. More than “Believe.” Right now, 16 or 17. I’ve got people from Russia, from the Ukraine, from all over the place, to be able to bring this crazy vision and really feature these artists who are so incredibly gifted. Their magic is the physicality. I can bring it to life in the most unbelievable ways that it almost looks like an illusion. But it’s not.

Check back Friday for Part 2 of our Q+A with Criss Angel.

Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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