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December 18, 2014

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Believe’ audience looking for magic in show’s previews

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Criss Angel

Criss Angel has 30 days to make believers.

His Cirque du Soleil show, "Believe," premieres at the Luxor on Halloween, leaving a month to put the finishing touches on the $100 million production. The show opened softly Friday to a sellout crowd and previews of the work-in-progress will continue until the Oct. 31 premiere.

"Believe" originally was scheduled to open Sept. 12, and some have suggested the delays indicate deep-rooted and serious problems are afoot. It isn't the first Cirque show to be delayed: "KÀ" was delayed about seven months before it premiered in 2005 at the MGM Grand.

Critics have taken swings at "Believe" as the preview performances ramp up.

A column in Monday’s Review-Journal called "Believe" an "unsalvageable waste of time … that literally bored some audience members to sleep." Though columnist Doug Elfman said he didn’t see the show himself, he talked to several people who saw the show Friday and Saturday. He also eavesdropped on ticketholders as they left the theater to reach his conclusions.

"Not one person I talked to said it was good," he said during a phone call Wednesday. "I wasn’t trying to stack the deck one way or another … I put in all the positive stuff I got."

Tuesday night's crowd wasn't as tough.

Cheryl and Randy Dalton, of Canton, Ohio, sat in Row M of Section 102. After the 25 percent preview price discount, their tickets, came to just over $100 each.

“It was definitely worth the money,” Cheryl said after the show. "(Angel) tied everything together, made it more of a performance, a story," she said. "I didn’t think there was going to be a storyline. It was kind of like an extra treat."

Said her husband, Randy: "I would’ve liked to see a little bit more illusions, but still it was very good."

Jason Koehn, Celeste Mansanz and Shawn Reiter came to Las Vegas from St. Paul, Minn., to see "Believe" and do a little gambling. Masanz said "Believe" was the highlight of the trip, while Reiter said he felt there was "a little too much of the TV stuff," but he still enjoyed the show.

When asked Tuesday night about the magic to song-and-dance ratio, Angel said there are more illusions in the show than most people realize. By his count, the show has about 25 significant so-called "mindfreaks" in the 90-minute performance.

Angel has learned a few things in these preview shows. The illusionist noted some aspects of the show that never were intended to be magic have been misinterpreted as illusions-gone-wrong. Case in point: the cables used in one sequence that suspend costumed Cirque performers above the stage.

"I never set out to try to fool anybody. Those people are hanging from a line," Angel said. "They’re not supposed to be levitating or flying. They’re hanging from, you know, a typical Cirque rig."

The 40-year-old Angel sat cross-legged on his dressing room couch, joking about his show being under a misguided microscope. "People in the audience are sitting there like, 'Oh, look at that girl flying like a bird! You can see a line!'" he said.

“Yes, you can see the line! I’m not trying to hide a line. The line is like this big,” he said, laughing as he held his fingers and inch or two apart to show the line's diameter.

He cracks jokes as he discusses the ups and downs of the creative process. Still, he said there’s a lot that remains to be done before the show opens next month.

“Is the show done? No, it’s not done,” he said. “We have a lot to do in the weeks coming.”

He said two or three illusions have yet to be worked into the show, while other aspects still need tweaking.

“We have work to do but it’s not unexpected,” he said. “We need a period of time to evolve and develop and to perfect and to utilize the audience as a barometer to be able to go through that process.”

Once it opens, "Believe" will be performed twice a night, five times a week for the next decade, if not longer. For now, however, there is just one show a night, at 7 p.m., allowing the production team time to evaluate audience reaction and the performance itself and make changes as needed.

And changes are needed.

After gauging audience response over the first five "soft performance nights," Angel said he wants to modify the part of the show in which he gets sawed in half.

"People are having a very hard time responding to me getting cut in half because, you know, they’re applauding my death and they don’t want to do that," he said. "I’m going to come here tomorrow at noon and … I will work with the director and try to kind of change the routine a little bit."

He said the show’s music has to be adjusted, too, to allow for applause in areas where no one anticipated people to cheer.

Three things didn’t go as planned Tuesday night: A chair didn’t spin when it was supposed to and, twice, a streamer didn’t shoot across the stage as scripted. Most in the audience didn't seem to notice when the relatively minor details didn’t fall into place as planned.

Without going into details, Angel acknowledged one of the show’s major illusions still needs work. He said Tuesday marked the first time he felt he pulled it off sufficiently, and even so, it's nowhere near where he wants it to be.

“I’m very, very excited about where we’re going and by Halloween … we’re going to be 110 percent perfection,” he said.

Angel's public relations rep, Steve Flynn, said the show is "very much still a work in progress.”

“The skeleton for the show is in place," he said. "Now we just have to put meat on the bones."

Angel said there are several things, both big and small, that need work.

"A major thing would be it rains in the show, and unfortunately, we couldn’t stop it from raining in the show (on Sunday and Monday),” he said. On Tuesday, the waterworks seemed to be in order and the rain machine stopped when it was supposed to.

He said the show is falling into place for the Halloween night debut.

"I think we’re in really good shape," Angel said. "People don’t stand (and applaud) if they hate something. People don’t stand if they feel that they didn’t get their money’s worth."

"Believe" joins "KÀ", "Zumanity," "O," "Mystère" and "Love" as the sixth permanent Cirque show in town. Tickets for "Believe" are available at the Luxor box office and online.

They range in price from $59 to $150, plus taxes and fees, but are discounted by 25 percent during the preview phase. The show is sold out through Oct. 6.

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