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Angel’s new Las Vegas show high on risk, low on time to open

Updated December 21, 2018 - 9:28 pm

Criss Angel had hoped to open his new production show, “Criss Angel Mindfreak,” on his birthday, which he celebrated Wednesday. But in the days leading to the show, Angel’s biological age has given way to how old he actually feels.

“This may take 10 years off my life,” Angel says after an extensive tour of his Criss Angel Theater at Planet Hollywood Resort. “I’m not joking. I’m deadly serious.”

Blame the show.

Angel is far removed from his powerful stage persona, unshaven and, as they say, looking like he showed up on a raft. He’ll clean up and get some sleep (he’s been topping out at maybe four hours a night) later. For now, there is more work to do on “Mindfreak,” which was delayed from its original scheduled opening date, Angel’s 51st birthday. The show’s next target opening date is Wednesday.

Angel’s show has been delayed in part to finalize inspections for the improvements and modifications the performer has made inside the theater. These are for changes in the venue’s infrastructure, not what is presented onstage. The overhaul is widespread, as Angel has built additional rigging, lifts, catwalks, even a bank of lockers, into the former “Peepshow” theater.

Angel also needs to fine-tune the production’s many advanced stage effects, especially the new pyro system cut into the stage, and a half-billion-pixel LED setup covering 90 screens, which is billed as the largest such system for any production show in the world.

Even in its under-development phase, the theater fairly engulfs people as they enter, with video panels spanning both sides of the 1,500-seat venue, and a new lighting setup over the balcony to give those in the back a sense of being close to the stage.

The surround-sound audio system of 150 speakers is capable of moving individual instruments around the theater, and large segments of the show will play out as if you are occupying one of Vegas’ megaclubs or an EDC performance. The sound system alone is worth venturing into the newly revamped venue.

Elsewhere, Angel’s show will rock hard, as evidenced by original artwork by Paul Stanley of Kiss at the theater entrance. Korn’s Jonathan Davis, a close friend of Angel’s, is contributing music and video from his single “Basic Needs” to the show.

Magic in the details

Oh, yes, and there is magic — Angel, testing the scale of his own reach once more, promises 75 new acts and illusions, including a new way of cutting a person in half (Angel has previously performed a self-cutting-in-half act at Luxor) and some adventurous moments involving a vehicle, and an airplane.

“Life is death without change,” says Angel, who has stripped the cast he had at his side when he closed his show at Luxor and is adding new backing dancers and a spot for illusionist Stefan “The Manipulator” Vanel, a member of Angel’s “Supernaturalists,” “Raw” and “Mindfreak” touring productions.

“For me, artistically, I’m very excited and very passionate,” Angel says. “It’s my fuel right now because I’m so exhausted. If the audience receives it and it’s the vision I have in my head, then yes, absolutely, it will be worth it.”

Angel says he’s not taking this aggressive tack because of cash, though he’s fully invested in the show through his Angel Productions Worldwide Incorporated (APWI) production company. Angel describes hotel and venue owner Caesars Entertainment and Las Vegas production company Base Entertainment as “presenters” of the show.

Beyond remaining a rich individual, Angel says he’s far more interested in proving he can succeed on the Strip without the partnership support of Cirque du Soleil. The Strip’s predominant production company was the creative force in the earliest phase of Angel’s “Believe” production but stepped aside as a marketing partner, presenting the show alongside such hits as “O,” “Beatles Love” and “Michael Jackson One.” That system helped Angel fill seats and kept “Cirque” next to his familiar “CA” brand.

But Angel’s show seems to surpass even the scale of the in-development Cirque extreme-sports show “Jump,” which will replace “Mindfreak Live” at Luxor. And Angel’s lavish effort is doubtlessly running counter to the trend in Las Vegas, where production shows and venues are being scaled back to meet a softer ticket-buying market. But Angel does see artistic growth on the Strip — in the clubs.

“Shows are more compact. Cheaper,” Angel says. “But the thing is, in the world of Las Vegas, the scene, financially, has changed. The club business in recent years actually had grossed more than the theater business, which has never been done. I think Vegas, by and large, has become complacent in regard to theatrical shows, and that’s part of the reason why. It becomes easy to do a more intimate show, because it is a lot less work, less money and less risk to do that.”

Angel could have simply moved the Luxor show to Planet Hollywood and kept the format and cast intact. But where’s the fun in that?

“If I was doing this for purely financial reasons, this would be very stupid,” he says. “I would just come in here and transfer the show, like ‘Jersey Boys’ did, or even taken one of my touring shows and put it here and my running expenses would be a third of what these are. The pre-production costs would have been zero and I would have made a lot of money. But, it’s not about money for me.”

Angel is motivated to prove he can advance magic as spectacle for a contemporary Las Vegas audience.

“For me, I want to claim and have something that’s relevant for today’s audience and something that people appreciate and talk about,” he says. “When I’m in the show and get all that excitement and energy and the standing ovations and the audience loves and talks about it — for me, that’s more gratifying than making money,” he says. “You’ve got to make money to pay your bills, but that’s not why I’m doing it.”

A new era of spectacle

Angel knows he’s fighting a trend where audiences’ capacity to sit through a 75-minute show is shrinking, and where tourists are trying to pack more experiences in a three-day visit to Vegas than in years past.

“I’m taking a chance here,” Angel reiterates. “I want to create something that’s really going to be at the forefront and is going to usher in a new era of how people approach shows in Vegas, where people want to be complacent and do what they’ve done for 25 years. They’re going to have to step up to the plate.”

At the end of the process, Angel seeks to raise the standards of live entertainment in Las Vegas.

“The winner in that situation is not me, it’s really the public,” he says. “The public deserves that in the entertainment capital of the world, Las Vegas. They deserve something better than what we’ve been doing because we’ve been doing the same thing, and now it’s time to use the technology and present something that captivates people with a lot less of an attention span than they had 20 years ago.”

A brazen goal, but Angel is nothing if not a bold figure. You have to feel he’ll make the show a hit, and somewhere between explosions, will find time to sleep.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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