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New Criss Angel show packed with magic and mood swings

Because they share a lot of the same tricks, most magic shows depend upon the personality of the magician.

But what if it’s a split personality?

Criss Angel has always been both his own brand and his own barrier to entry. Instead of being synonymous with “magic” he’s been synonymous with himself: the ’90s goth-rock leather and bare sculpted pecs weren’t easily confused with any of your tuxedoed or spangly jacket illusionists.

If you knew him for his “Mindfreak” TV show, then you came to his live show to see that guy. If you were browsing for a “magic show,” you probably picked David Copperfield or something cheaper, less loud and less leathery.

So now comes a reboot of Angel’s Luxor showcase, now called “Mindfreak Live!” And it’s so scattered all over the place you’d think it came out on the bad end of his death saw.

For Angel’s fans, magic ignorance is bliss. Those who aren’t broad-based consumers of the craft aren’t likely to realize much of the cooler magic in the new show has been seen elsewhere, from Copperfield on down to afternoon perennial Nathan Burton.

But if you do come in without a fully formed opinion of who Criss Angel is, he gives you a couple of versions to choose from.

There’s the metal magician who saws a woman in half and never puts her back together, joking that he prefers to keep the lower half. “You sick bastards. Yeah, my people,” he says when a dark-humored follow-up bit extends the joke.

But there’s also the Long Island family guy who gets choked up on stage making an impassioned plea to fight childhood cancer, becoming the voice of “all those kids who fought the fight and all the children just beginning.”

Angel and accompanying photos explain this is a battle that came to his toddler son. Power to him for harnessing his celebrity and rallying fans to a cause.

Pre-show videos also remind fans (or teach newcomers) how “it took me 18 years to become an overnight success.” They don’t even conceal the fact that Angel is 48 now if you want to do the math on his high-school graduation photos. People change. Get older and more dimensional, it all seems to suggest.

But none of it quite prepares you for the left turns: Dressing the striking assistant Chloe Crawford as a cancer patient after we’ve seen her in plaid mini-skirt and red pumps. Or a Blue Man Group-ish “celebration of life” dance party with confetti and go-go dancers.

And if it seems like a conscious attempt at an image makeover? Angel confirmed as much on opening night, when he told a crowd heavy on invited guests, “Some of you might still hate me,” but hoped they might reassess him.

He also invited us non-paying customers to “compare me to what’s in Vegas right now,” which I think he meant as an invitation to study just how much magic is in the show, and just how much he packs into 85 minutes.

The new edition is nearly wall-to-wall action, minimizing the awkward speaking parts and making little throwaway bits out of tricks that lower-budget magicians build into big moments, such as a blizzard of confetti snow.

Some bits fold seamlessly into the next, such as when a straitjacket escape leaves Angel dangling upside down, allowing him to dive right into a switcheroo illusion known in the industry as a “substitution trunk.”

Other times the action stops cold, often killing the cool gothic-horror vibe. The need to reset things backstage leads to a lot of forced comic relief from Mateo Amieva and Penny Wiggins, the latter familiar from years of working as The Amazing Johnathan’s ditzy sidekick.

Angel carries over some of the original illusions unsurpassed on the Strip, including an audience member who gets to choose which of eight motorcycles will appear in a box.

But if the offer to compare him to other Vegas magicians extends to the past, it leads down a gooey ethical trail. Lance Burton gets a shout-out and even a voice cameo for the sword-fighting switch seen in Burton’s show for ages.

Other illusionists aren’t so generously credited: Copperfield for his flying around the stage and even into a box, or the double levitation Rick Thomas did for years on the Strip: first levitating a woman, then flying up to her to reveal that she has vanished as well.

It’s like the history of magic all thrown into one show and, as such, can’t be beat for its magic-per-minute ratio. But when it comes to the personality of the star and whether you like him? The kitchen-sink approach only goes so far.

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

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