Criss Angel doesn’t need a note from his doctor.
If you wonder why his arm’s in a stylish black sling, or why the show title has changed from “Believe” to “Magicjam” for the next month or so, he shows us “eight seconds of pretty gross stuff” to explain it.
Specifically, it’s giant-screen footage of his January surgery, which reattached his right-arm bicep to the bone and repaired two tears to his rotator cuff. The damage was done in an upside-down straitjacket escape filmed in Times Square for his Spike TV show last October, and we see that on video, too.
All this is to make us more accepting of “Magicjam,” which allows Angel to keep performing while on the mend. It takes about a third of “Believe” and fuses it with a variety format that allows less-famous magicians to show their wares in 10- or 15-minute segments.
The result is a sort of glass half-empty or full scenario. If you had your heart set on seeing the regular show, Angel does as much as he can in a compromised situation not to disappoint you, and you’re likely to roll with the guest stars.
If you’re not such a fan and figured this might be an altogether different product? Not so fast there, mister. Don’t think you’re going to escape not one, but two big, dramatic buildups to introduce the star illusionist, one of them a montage of old video clips set to the “Mindfreak” theme blasted at seat-rattling volume.
But as compromises go, more of this one lands on the half-full side. The guests give you a broad overview of stage magic and lighten up the goth-rock blustering of “Believe” at full dosage. And the illusions that carry over include some of Angel’s best and most original. You get a lot of the highlights without a lot of clutter.
Three of the guest performers are working pros moonlighting from their usual gigs. Nathan Burton has his own afternoon showcase of comedy magic. He races to distill his full show down to a highlights reel including both of his best-known illusions, one involving a giant toilet and the other a “Microwave of Death.”
Jason Byrne’s silent segment with birds may not have as much effect on the back half of Angel’s sizable theater, but rewards those who pay attention.
And Russ Merlin is not actually a magician, but never fails with his tried-and-true segment of putting masks on four gents from the audience. It’s silly, and kind of hard to explain, but even the usher was laughing.
You also get a sample of close-up card and coin manipulation from Armando Vera, although most audience members end up watching this on the big screen.
Fans of Angel’s Spike TV show will recognize the mentalist Banachek, who manages “to get into your mind” as promised in the time allowed. He makes short work of guessing which playing card an audience member has thought of — “Are you an Aries? I can tell by the way you’re holding the microphone” — or figuring out what people have written on a piece of paper.
Banachek’s segment ends with a funny bit segueing into an act that would spoil the punch line to discuss. Suffice it to say that at least twice, Angel and company have tried to create transitions which fight the modular, “Welcome our next guest” approach of the variety format.
Spike viewers will also recognize Krystyn Lambert, an Angel protege who takes over the segment of “Believe” that calls for a straitjacket escape followed by the classic trunk switch known as “Metamorphosis.”
Her silent doubling for Angel in this sequence keeps one of the coolest “Believe” sequences from getting cut, but kind of undermines any attempt to convince us that big, mechanics-heavy illusions are unique to the people performing them.
No danger of Angel getting lost, though. After hosting the variety acts, he serves as one-armed conductor for nearly a half-hour of “Believe,” including one of the best illusions in town: A custom motorcycle selected by an audience member offered eight choices is materialized in the blink of an eye.
Audience reaction to the next six weeks or so (depending upon what the doctor says) will determine whether “Magicjam” is an exercise in frustration for fans, or a path to aging gracefully for a 46-year-old star who owes much of his fame to physically risky stunts.
My vote would be for the ensemble to further play up its collective strengths, working even harder to create a team effort with a lighter tone that says, “We’re doing our own thing here, not just ‘Believe’ at half speed.”
But even in its first week, “Magicjam” felt like it had a lot more to offer than just making sure the star’s only vanishing act is onstage.
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0288.