There is a grown man, not quite middle-aged but getting there, in the front row of tonight’s performance of Criss Angel’s Mindfreak Live! at Luxor Las Vegas. He’s enthralled the moment he takes his seat, watching a screen onstage play a montage of Angel’s greatest tricks—the Luxor light levitation and the Times Square water torture cell, among others—and he remains in this state of unrestrained exuberance throughout the show.
In the end, when Angel descends from the stage to greet the front row, the magician and fan share a handshake, and the latter celebrates with the enthusiasm of a 10-year-old Little Leaguer who just hit the game-winning home run.
This is the following Angel has inspired during his nine-year run in Las Vegas. It’s the same following that’s supported his empire of TV shows, touring productions and merchandise, and this year it carried him to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Why would he want to leave any of it behind?
“It’s not just the illusions and it’s not just the images. It’s the experience, and this experience is really revolutionary for magic.” –Criss Angel
Wait, before we jump to the future, let’s bring the story back to Angel’s start in Las Vegas. It’s not the story of a young performer struggling to make ends meet—Angel was already an established star when he partnered with Cirque du Soleil on Criss Angel Believe—but, he says, there were behind-the-scenes struggles, as the artist and producers failed to see eye-to-eye.
“We had a director who didn’t like magic, we had people who were trying to create things that were much more like a Broadway show, and it really wasn’t what people were coming to see,” he says. “It was kind of creatively out of my hands; it was all Cirque-driven. They tried to do something, but unfortunately, it wasn’t what we thought it was going to be.”
Our conversation is happening during Angel’s break from editing a music video at the 60,000-square-foot warehouse that serves as a testing ground for his Mindfreak Live! set pieces. The hours he puts in here during the day, before heading to Luxor (Angel says he doesn’t sleep more than three hours a night), give him the chance to “get my creative rocks off.”
That’s something he says Believe wasn’t giving him until last year, when the Mindfreak show replaced Believe and Angel became its executive producer. He finally had full creative control, he says, adding that he’s never enjoyed a better relationship with Cirque.
“It’s not just the illusions and it’s not just the images. It’s the experience, and this experience is really revolutionary for magic,” he says. “It’s technologically superior, and we’re doing things that are groundbreaking—things that I spent 18 years developing.”
His investment in his craft is the driving force behind Angel’s desire to have ownership of his show. Like any artist, he’s protective of his brand. Angel owns all of his merchandise—“I think I have over 2,000 items,” he says—and his company, Angel Productions Worldwide, controls his multimedia ventures.
His business acumen, he explains, came from a lot of on-the-job training in his early days. “I couldn’t afford a lawyer, so I used to read all of my contracts,” Angel recalls. “I used to look up in the dictionary what certain words meant.
“I learned a lot about the English language and writing and what a business plan means and how to present it, just by doing it constantly, trying to get people to support me and invest in me. It was many, many years in the making.”
Now, with more than 30 years of performing under his studded leather belt, Angel faces a life-changing decision: Will he leave Las Vegas when his 10-year deal is up at Luxor in October 2018?
“I’ll probably know before the end of this year what I’m going to do, but I don’t know,” he says. “All my options are open. If my show wasn’t so successful, then I probably would be in a different situation, but because it has really been incredible and I’ve been very blessed to have the type of success that I’ve been bestowed, I’m in a good position to be a free agent.”
“If my show wasn’t so successful, then I probably would be in a different situation, but because it has really been incredible and I’ve been very blessed to have the type of success that I’ve been bestowed, I’m in a good position to be a free agent.”
Angel adds that there are “a couple of completely different directions” he could take. Being a free agent doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll sign on to another stage show, he explains, because of all that he’s learned as a producer and performer. On Mindfreak Live!, Angel says, he’s involved in everything from the lighting to the pyrotechnics.
“My skill set is very diverse and I’m trying to learn more about each thing, because you want to be able to know as much as you possibly can,” he says. “My goal is to learn as much as I can as an artist and as a person.”
That montage of clips that runs before Angel’s show includes bits of his acting reel, which includes guest appearances on CSI: New York. He laughs when asked if acting could become a future full-time gig, but he says it’s crossed his mind, and he explains how Oscar nominee and friend Gary Oldman once offered him advice on playing his onstage alter ego, Xristos.
“[Oldman] says, ‘When you enter on that throne, I’d be completely still and I would do this look,’ and he showed me the look and we practiced it,” Angel says. “I was so flattered and honored, because I respect him. Everybody respects him.”
Oldman was among the guest speakers at July’s unveiling of Angel’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The 2,615th star, near the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, is directly across from Harry Houdini’s star. Angel says the placement is significant because of the similarities he shares with the late 19th century/early 20th century magician.
“Houdini was his own entity,” he says. “[He] created his own brand and really understood how to connect to the public and how to create intrigue.”
Intrigue. Sort of like leaving us wondering if there’s a final curtain call in Criss Angel’s future.