LAS VEGAS -- Wow.
That's all I had to say after watching the premiere performance of "Criss Angel: Believe," a multimillion-dollar alliance between TV illusionist Criss Angel, star of the A&E show "Criss Angel Mindfreak," and Cirque du Soleil, creators of such beautifully staged acrobatic shows as "KA," "Beatles Love" and "Mystere."
In essence, "Believe," Cirque's sixth show on the Las Vegas Strip, is a magic show -- one that combines the whimsy of Cirque du Soleil with Angel's normally compelling style of magic.
But the big problem is this: The only wonder inspired by the disjointed acid trip of a performance is the "What were they thinking?" sort that makes ticket-holders wonder if they should've
That's not to say Angel isn't a good magician. On the contrary, his television persona is positively creepy in its smoothness. TV viewers have seen Angel walking on water, getting run over by steam rollers and levitating from one building top to another.
But with "Believe," Criss Angel fans may be disappointed. Because try as it does to keep audiences entertained, the stage show isn't able to re-create the caliber of illusions he does on TV.
Angel's trademark levitation trick, for instance, looks great on television; but on the Luxor's misty, tripped-out stage it just looks like a neat special effect. (That said, Angel does spend quite a bit of time on stage shirtless,
The show begins with a video montage showing the sorts of mind-blowing stunts Angel does on "Mindfreak," followed by his descending onto the stage on a platform of lights and fog.
Then, after some basic magic -- including a remote writing trick and a quick disappearing act -- Angel gears up in a glittering metal bodysuit and declares that he's about to do a "very dangerous" electrocution stunt.
Which contains, as it turns out, a lot of rabbits. Mean rabbits. Creepy, dancing rabbits. Ugly rabbits with fangs. Stand-alone heads of rabbits. And, most outrageously, one dead and bloody rabbit.
It's all a little disturbing.
When Angel appears on the stage muttering, "Where am I?" the rabbits descend upon him, tearing him apart until all that's left is a hodgepodge of severed limbs. This is, of course, a segue into Angel being magically put back together, piece by piece.
From there, the show splinters into so many directions that one has to wonder whether opening day came a little too early for Angel and "Believe" director Serge Denoncourt (rumor has it, the show underwent serious changes after September previews were panned by audiences).
Some tricks don't seem like tricks at all. When Angel "jumps" into a movie screen and comes out the other side wearing -- !! -- a different outfit, it's all too clear he's just jumped behind the screen and walked to the other side. He can change clothes fast, I'll give him that, but it doesn't quite leave anyone amazed.
Angel's most compelling tricks are his simplest ones: I still don't understand how he can produce flocks of doves from his seemingly empty hands. And he does do a few very cool disappearing acts.
But when it comes to the sorts of staggering stunts you'd expect from a morphing of two such talented enterprises, "Believe" falls short.
Maybe it's the dialogue. Cirque shows usually steer clear of words, opting instead for music and maybe a bit of garbled non-language.
In "Believe," however, Angel does a little too much talking. In fact, there were some audible laughs from the audience when Angel woke up from his nightmarish romp and said in his Judy Garland best: "I had this crazy dream. ... And (pointing at fellow cast members) you were there."
It's no "Wizard of Oz."
Parents wanting to take their little ones to the show should think twice.
Some of this stuff is enough to give grown-ups nightmares. Seeing blood and guts spewing out of Angel's torso during the saw-him-in-half trick was cool, but seeing a skinned and mangled bunny rabbit flop to the stage after being crushed by a light fixture? Well, that's just messed up.
With all its gore, there are some beautiful elements in "Believe." A scene featuring a blossoming field of orange flowers is wondrously dreamlike and consistent with some of Cirque's other productions. An on-stage hurricane featuring seemingly gale-force winds is also impressive. And the show's nightmarish costumes are gorgeous, especially on some of those freaky bunnies.
But in the end, "Believe" feels like neither a true magic show nor a true Cirque show. It has pieces of both, they just don't work together.
It may be a work-in-progress, but whether "Believe" has a chance at longevity, well, I'll believe it when I see it.
IF YOU GO
"Criss Angel: Believe" is playing at the Luxor Hotel & Casino, 3900 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas. Shows are Friday through Tuesday at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Tickets are $59 to $150. Information: www.cirquedusoleil.com/believe, (800) 557-7428.
Our rating: 1 1/2 stars.