BWW Interview: Criss Angel Appears on Broadway to Levitate Your Spirits
Master illusionist Criss Angel promises a mind-blowing spectacle and scary thrills on Broadway with his stripped-down show, RAW: MINDFREAK UNPLUGGED, running July 2-7 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.
Angel's much-lauded Vegas show, MINDFREAK, is an immersive explosion of dazzling video, light and sound -- not to mention how-did-he-do-that illusions that stun and baffle enthusiastic crowds. RAW: MINDFREAK UNPLUGGED won't have all the bells and whistles of Vegas. It will be a scaled-down, intimate and family-friendly production of close-up chicanery and comic foils.
"People shouldn't expect to see the Vegas show MINDFREAK when they come into my funhouse," Angel explained. "This is the antithesis of that experience. I wanted to strip away the make-up and perform intimately." Or as intimately as possible in a theater that seats about 1,500.
Angel may not be regarded as a raconteur, but after this run, he will be. "I'll tell stories as three different characters so the audience will get to know how my imagination works," Angel said. "It took me 18 years to get to this point."
Angel's levitation bit is unusual because it's not dependent on wires or poles. "The audience will be blown away because it's nothing they've ever seen before," he added. When pressed he gave few details because he wanted people to be stunned. "I appear, disappear and end up in surprising places," he said.
Angel, from Elmont, Long Island, was encouraged by his father and his Aunt Stella, who taught him his first card trick. "I wanted to learn so bad she taught me. I must have shown everyone that same trick 100 times," he said with a laugh.
He frequently took the train from Hicksville to Manhattan to seek representation and a place to hone his act in Times Square. Angel studied three-card monte hustlers, was wowed by break dancers, street poppers and bucket drummers.
Angel eventually sold three television specials to A&E. "I had some trials and tribulations, and many magicians have said I bring something different to the table," Angel recounted.
His audiences are in sync with pop culture, contemporary art and music. "You'll see and hear references to Fellini, Dalí, other great artists. That's not typical for most magic shows.
"My theme is to connect with the audience," he said. "I want to hit them in their emotional center."
Cast and crew of 100 will accompany Angel during his brief Broadway residence. "This show is not about puzzles. It's about feeling the magic, "he said. "Everything you 'll see has been built in my Vegas studio of 60,00 square feet.
"I have video content, scenic props, and I take magic to a whole other level. I'm inventing the future of magic," he added.
"That's why I admire the late Doug Henning so much; he was such a unique force in the magic world," Angel said. "He had a gentleness and sincerity which made him so loved."
He hopes his residency inspires big dreams
"My magic is like thinking about tomorrow: How do I do levitation and not do it in the darkness without being hokey?" he asked. "My audience can relate on an emotional level because there will be flying, flipping and manipulating, practically within arm's reach.
"I'll be standing on top of a ladder, leaning forward and will walk down the ladder parallel to the floor. No wires, just blasting light. People will freak out," he said.
Angel will perform two of Houdini's famous escapes involving a box and straitjacket, which he will invite audience members to examine.
"It's not a gimmick jacket. I'll be putting it on in a trunk and you'll have your mind blown when I appear without it," Angel said.
Many of his dreams involve flying, untethered by gravity. "I'm sure everyone has had a dream about flying," he added. "That has been one of my driving goals, to recreate that sensation. I'm going to levitate like only I can," Angel said.
Expect many costume changes and upbeat pre-recorded music created for the show. "It's not rock concert loud. The music is there to support the visuals," he said. "The magic will speak for itself."
He'll also manifest audience members' biggest fears. "I talk about fears and bring people on stage to bring theirs to life."
Clowns or scorpions, anyone?
"You'll never guess where the magic is going to happen," he said. "I want to be unpredictable."
Angel created the Johnny Crisstopher Foundation after his son was diagnosed with leukemia at 20 months. He's been in remission for six months. The foundation pours funds into pediatric cancer research. One hundred percent of the proceeds are donated.
Angel's many upcoming projects include producing a documentary, 1095, based on Johnny Crisstopher's experience battling the disease.
"He loves to come on stage with me, so don't be surprised if he comes out to take a bow," he said. Another son, Xristos, is 21 weeks old.
The physical demands are taxing. Angel has performed after undergoing arm surgery; scrapes and bruises are par for the course.
Angel protects his voice by speaking from his diaphragm. He participates in about 460 meet-and-greets a year. When he's not on the Vegas stage, he tours.
He relaxes before shows by having a massage, then stretches for 30 minutes. His post-show meal is typically a juicy filet mignon.
"I want to create an evening where people get to know me, a guy from Long Island who had a dream. I'm not special," he said. "I just worked very hard."
Criss Angel's RAW: MINDFREAK UNPLUGGED will play at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 West 46th Street from July 2-7.