Criss Angel offers life lessons and levitations in new Luxor show

Criss Angel 2008: “This show is beyond my wildest fantasy, is beyond anything I could comprehend. This show is an experience that is unlike anything the world of entertainment has ever seen. Believe.”

Criss Angel 2016: “It’s beyond anything, any other magic show in Vegas or the world for that matter … . One thing I know, it will be without a question the most mind-blowing, revolutionary magic show ever to be performed live, with more magic in it than any other show ever.”

Does the guy ever learn?

As a matter of fact, he says, yes.

“I could have sat here and been very coy, but honestly I’m bursting with excitement,” says the magician not known for coyness. “But I know what we’re doing, I know where we’re going and I know what else is out there.”

The relaunch of Angel’s long-running Luxor showcase “will really show how far magic has come and how kind of dated a lot of the magic shows are,” he says. “Magic, I’ll be bold and say, has never seen anything like this.”

Though his knack for self-promotion hasn’t changed in more than six years on the Strip, Angel says other things have since the infamous debut of “Believe” on Halloween 2008.

“I’m a different person artistically and as a human being than I was eight or 10 years ago,” the 48-year-old New Yorker says. The goal now is to “try to take the lessons that I’ve learned and to try to put in on the stage in a way that really is something unique and original and, quite frankly, revolutionary for the art of magic.”

He gets that chance in the new “Mindfreak Live,” essentially the third version of his Luxor showcase. What remained of the original “Believe” closed in April to make way for the retitled makeover, which had its “soft opening” last week to gear up for a grand reopening June 30.

The new show features cutting-edge video mapping and more than 50 illusions. He hopes those who saw the original, misguided version of “Believe,” will “come away (and say) ‘Hey, this is what you should have done from the beginning.’ ”

Angel now carries about every credit you can think of — director, creator, star, executive producer — on the title that still falls under the banner of Cirque du Soleil, but one the company has kept creative distance from since its first year.

The original “Believe” was a beautiful Cirque fever dream, but its laughable storyline struggled to figure out what to do with the goth-rock magician that people expected to see from the “Mindfreak” TV series.

“The biggest problem with the show was Criss Angel was in it,” he is able to say now. “If there was an unknown magician in there, it probably would still be running, because it was a good show.”

But after three years of his A&E channel show filled with daredevil stunts and illusions taking place everywhere but a proper stage, “People were conditioned to think of Criss Angel in a certain way,” he says.

“Cirque, and really the director (Serge Denoncourt), hid the fact that I was Criss Angel. Wanted me not to act like Criss Angel. Which is crazy if you think about it. But at the time, I went along for the ride.”

At least for a while. Though “Believe” never went through a long shutdown, within a year it shed most of the dancing rabbits and showgirls in bondage wear. Cirque still ran the business side and included “Believe” in its collective marketing, but stepped back to let the star refashion it into the straight-ahead magic show most fans expected.

The guy not known for introspection — or at least not for sidelining it from his overall enthusiasm — said, “I wouldn’t change anything. It’s the way it was supposed to be.”

The new show reflects “the knowledge of trials and tribulations I had to go through to get to this point,” he says. “You can’t just come out of the box and be able to do that. You have to go through this kind of life experience and have the incredible support and infrastructure that I’m blessed to have.”

“Mindfreak Live” has an autobiographical thread, which starts with a pre-show video and continues in the show referencing early career successes, such as his off-Broadway breakthrough in the early 2000s.

Recent life challenges are included as well. A straitjacket escape is now framed in terms of the sacrifices the real Christopher Sarantakos endured in the name of Criss Angel, with footage of past stunts and the shoulder surgery that a Times Square escape led to in 2014.

Another segment addresses the leukemia battle of his young son, Johnny Cristopher. “One of the most important things I’m doing in the show is showing the reality of pediatric cancer, what it’s like to have a son who has that,” he says. “And it’s done in a very artful way.”

The segment aspires to take audiences “to the point where they are seeing a real difficult subject matter expressed through art, and hopefully come away with hope. These kids are really special and magic in their own way.”

If that doesn’t sound like the bare-chested, gold-chain magician parodied up and down the Strip — the sketch show “Spoofical” even planned to portray him as literally a giant douche bag — the older, wiser Angel still hopes to continue his legacy as the guy who brought magic to pop culture “in a way that utilizes and embraces all of these elements you would see on an awards show.”

The new show makes extensive use of video mapping to create 3-D effects. In a video-game battle with a “sword-fighting ominous character” (who just might sound like retired magician Lance Burton), “the whole scene turns 360 degrees, both me and him and the background.”

Another levitating effect will reveal “essentially a whole 200-year-old city starting to grow out of the ground … being built from the ground out of the earth,” he says. “Not only do I go up, the perspective for the audience changes as I go up. You see over the roof, over the skyline. The audience feels like they’re going up with me.”

Cirque fans take note: There will even be acrobatics. “You will see people doing what’s called tricking, where they can flip and do crazy things with their bodies. But it will be presented as a way that’s seamless within the illusions and the emotion I’m creating.

“We’re using things that tie into the magic and using the illusions as the (acrobatic) apparatus, as opposed to bringing in the apparatus you would see in a typical Cirque du Soleil show for them to do their physical magic,” he adds.

Not for the first time does the conversation drift back to 2008. “It’s how we should have incorporated what they do and what I do from the beginning,” he says. “But it’s easy to say that. Hindsight’s 20/20 now.”

A 60,000-square-foot warehouse to create illusions, some of which were road-tested in a touring show that Angel performed outside the Las Vegas market, puts the magician in a rare position to push a stalled art form forward again.

“I work harder than anyone out there, I know that, and I have an incredibly talented team that is beyond what anyone else out there has,” he says. “I know at the end of the day, we’re going to do something I don’t think the world of magic is going to be able to top for many, many, many years to come.”

Bold claims again, but …

“It’s just the right time. I couldn’t have done this 10 years ago, let’s put it that way.”

Read more from Mike Weatherford at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com and follow @Mikeweatherford on Twitter.

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