Criss Angel
Criss Angel
It may be the Christmas season, but it will seem like Halloween the moment you step in to the World Underground Theatre on West 43rd Street to see Criss Angel MINDFREAK. In other words, it's time for trick or treat--especially trick. If you like your magic shows done with wit and class, you may feel tricked by MINDFREAK.

Criss Angel is a daredevil, give him that. He performs this show in an intimate cabaret setting where ringside patrons are exceptionally close to the illusions. From our seats, we could see the sleight-of-hand involved in several tricks. Of course, everything Angel does is sleight-of-hand in one form or another; but even if we think we can figure it out, we shouldn't be able to actually see it. Most of the time, to be sure, we didn't have a clue as to how he was pulling off his stunts. How did he defeat a monster and then end up inside the monster's costume? Great trick--but it was performed in such a lumbering style that it had no kick.

At one point in the show, birds appeared out of nowhere. (Ho hum.) Angel performed a rather obvious card trick. (Ditto.) He made one of his cohorts disappear through a "hidden" trap door, and he wriggled out of a straightjacket while hanging from his feet. Okay, we can't do that; nor do we know how to levitate someone above a floor full of candles. When you get down to it, though, the tricks are just an excuse for all the razzmatazz that surrounds Criss Angel. He's not just selling magic, he's selling an image. And that image is the real illusion.

Angel is a leather-clad sex symbol, complete with long, black, flowing locks. In a show that is largely and literally just smoke and mirrors, he conjures up a colorful mix of Rocky Horror, Star Wars, and a heavy metal concert. As for the music, Angel co-wrote it. He also created and designed the illusions and directed the show. The only significant element of the production that does not bear the glow of his magic fingerprints is the exceptionally atmospheric lighting design, credit for which belongs to seven-time Tony Award winners Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer.

As a magic show, MINDFREAK successfully baffles us most of the time. As a work of theater, it also baffles us. There is plenty of eye candy in the manner of strobe lights, sparks, and a supporting cast of freakishly costumed assistants, but what does it all add up to? Criss Angel doesn't have the humor of Penn & Teller, the finely crafted sense of showmanship of David Copperfield, or the genius of Marc Salem. He might play well in places like Las Vegas and Atlantic City. But this show, despite its tricks, is no treat.