Thoughts On Criss Angel Believe

A lot of people have been asking me what I thought of Believe, the Criss Angel/Cirque du Soleil show that opened at the Luxor on Halloween Friday (I saw it the Sunday before opening). I've been trying to get caught up from from my trip and also the Gravesend Inn haunted hotel, so it took me a while to get his written up.  In the meantime, the critics have spoken:

Variety: "Never mind the bunnies, "Criss Angel Believe" is a dog."

Las Vegas Sun: "No wonder. That - among its many, more obvious failings - is the fatal flaw at the heart of "Criss Angel: Believe."

LA Times Vegas Blog: "All I could think about watching Criss Angel's "Believe" was the movie "Showgirls" and Elizabeth Berkley's Nomi Malone, the nomad who goes from stripper to Strip showgirl."

LA Times Review: "If Criss Angel were blindfolded, straitjacketed, run over by a steamroller, locked in a steel box and dumped from a helicopter into the Pacific Ocean, he still might be easier to salvage from disaster than "Criss Angel: Believe," the gloomy, gothic muddle of a show that officially lurched into being on Halloween night like some patched-together Frankenstein's monster."

Ouch! There are certainly serious problems with the show, but I guess, working in the business, I look at it a bit differently, and I saw value and even beauty in the production. But before I share a few thoughts, I have to commend Cirque and the Luxor management for taking such an enormous risk.  It was a bold move and I'm glad there are still people out there willing to try stuff like this.

The creation team had a huge balancing act to do on this show. On one side, they had the legacy and tradition of Cirque; on the other, the celebrity of Criss Angel. When this balancing act failed, the show I saw was painful to watch. But when the team got their footing and found their balance, I saw the most beautifully designed and elegant magic show I've ever seen (and I've seen a bunch).

But that said, as a magic show, there are problems. While the illusions in the show are very polished and often work astoundingly quickly, we've seen many of them before on Mindfreak, or on other shows up and down the strip. There is of course a limited repertoire of what's possible in magic, but I expected to see things I hadn't seen before.

In addition, there's a sort of magic dramaturgy problem, at least in the performance I saw. In the opening scene, Angel ascends through a trap in the floor in front of the audience. Later, Angel is (likely) coming up through other traps in the same stage floor as part of the illusions. There's not much traditional circus in the show, but the acrobats that are in the show are hanging on visible cables with weights near the hook. Later, Angel himself "walks" down a wall but the cables aren't "visible". As someone who studies this stuff, this didn't bother me, but I think for the average audience member, it just draws attention to places where a magician would generally not want the attention drawn.  Magic tricks and illusions are often fragile assemblages, and generally need all the help they can get.

But I do think that these and other problems may get fixed, since Cirque has an established history of working on their shows long after opening night--in the last year alone, they replaced an entire scene in Ka, which had been open since 2005.

The design on the show was very good; but you'll have to wait for my article in Lighting and Sound America to read more about that.  In the meantime, there's some interesting video here from the Las Vegas Sun that shows some of the illusions and also has some background on the show.

So my recommendation? Wait about six months, and then, especially if you like magic, go see the show the next time you're in Vegas. But you should probably see Penn and Teller, Jeff McBride, Ka, Love, O and Mystere first.