Criss Angel fans flew in from as far away as London to see his new Cirque du Soleil show open at the Luxor on Friday. The verdict by many? Creatively, "Believe" is a possibly unsalvageable "waste of time" and a "dead end" that literally bored some audience members to sleep.
On Saturday night, reaction was even worse.
"Everyone in the bathroom was chanting 'bull----'" from the urinals, Damon Ranger of Chicago told me Saturday. "It was absolutely awful. You can 'Believe' how bad it is -- because it's terrible!"
People streamed out of the theater on Saturday screaming about how poor it was. A group of six women was led by a woman yelling furiously, demanding their money back.
"Dude, it's a train wreck," Ranger said. On a scale of 1 to 10, he declared "Believe" a zero.
I didn't see the show, which stars the TV illusionist in a Cirque performance, because I wanted to purely chronicle fan reaction to one of the most anticipated new shows on the Strip in some time, a show that is said to have cost in the ballpark of $85 million.
So I interviewed more than a dozen people after Friday's and Saturday's shows, and I listened to groups chat after they exited the theater. They weren't just disappointed. Some were enraged.
Walter Huertas lives in Las Vegas and has seen every Cirque show here. On a scale of 1 to 10, he gave it a 1. He coaxed a friend to go. They left 20 minutes before the end of Friday's debut.
"There's no magic in it," Huertas said.
Huertas knows Angel for his "antics" and death-defying stunts from his "Mindfreak" show on A&E. But he said "Believe" has no compelling storyline, and it's more about dancing and unimpressive tricks, like pulling doves from a sleeve.
"It's something that should be in a variety show," he said. "It's about a bunch of 'rabbits' dancing around in costume."
Huertas equated the quality of "Believe" to that of Mandalay Bay's disastrous old "Storm" show. If you ever saw "Storm," you realize how dismal that comparison is.
Two other Angel fans, Steve Moffett and Jordan Wilson, flew in from London for Friday's debut.
"We were hysterical about coming. We came. It was a waste of time," Wilson said. "The magic's not even magic."
They complained they could see wires and stage holes used in unconvincing acts.
"Belief was not suspended once," said Moffett, who called the show a "dead end." "They fake an accident at the beginning, and it sets the tone of the rest of the show -- fake."
"David Copperfield is better, and he's a boring old" guy, Moffett said.
Wilson said it should be called "Criss Angel -- Don't Believe."
Moffett and Wilson walked out before the ending, because Angel started singing the finale, a cover of his "Mindfreak" TV theme song.
"He broke into song. I said, 'He's singing. Now we're leaving,'" Wilson said.
They thought he was lip-syncing. Ranger did, too: "I'm a musician. It's lip-syncing. The audio wasn't matching the video."
On a scale of 1 to 10, Moffett gave it a 4; Wilson a 3.
Like most people I interviewed, they thought Cirque's background elements were great. Wilson said the red-motif set design is "phenomenal," costumes are "good," the dancers are fine, and the proscenium arches are "elegant."
Kevin Saum of Chicago added, "The Cirque music is awesome."
But despite the best elements, Angel's show is appalling, Saum said. On a scale of 1 to 10, Saum deemed it a 3.
"It's embarrassing to put the Cirque name on it," Saum said. "He walks around the whole time and doesn't do anything. It's not his TV show. It's just really bad."
Saum and his friend Ranger flew in for a "bro's" weekend, specifically to see "Believe" plus Foo Fighters at the Hard Rock. They loved Foo Fighters. They hated "Believe" so much Ranger exited the theater by calling out to random people in the Luxor to not see it.
"They were drawing people in with the Criss Angel (fan base), and they drew us in, and we were very disappointed," said Saum, who usually loves Cirque shows. "The whole storyline is dumb."
There are caveats. Some planned elements weren't ready by Friday. And all Vegas shows get tweaked in the months after they open.
A few theatergoers said "Believe" doesn't appear to be salvageable to them, though. Others said it might be OK if changed in coming months. Saum wasn't so sure.
"We understand there are kinks to work out. But this is about more than kinks," Saum said.
Saum and Ranger were in the cheap seats, in the back, and even from there they could see through illusionlike performances.
"Usually in a Cirque show, you don't see wires. You see the wires all the time," Saum said.
Julie Schmidt went to see Friday's show with her daughter, Caitlin, and with Joe Sposato. All three of the Coloradoans deemed it a 4 or 5 out of 10. That's the highest praise I heard.
"The guy next to me was sound asleep," Julie Schmidt said.
She said "Believe" is "artistic and creative," "but it was like there were five shows, and they couldn't decide which one to do."
The five subshows were, she said: Cirque performances; good dancers; poor magic; "him off doing something else behind the scenes"; and the go-nowhere storyline.
"You can see the openings on the floor" for the illusion-esque acts, Julie complained.
"The magic he did do was basic," Sposato said.
"I thought it was going to be more like his show" on TV, Caitlin said.
John and Gail Michalak came from Los Angeles to see "Believe" with Karla Delemos. On the 1-to-10 scale, John gave it a 1; Gail a 3; and Delemos didn't rate it -- she fell asleep.
"I just got screwed," John said. "He pulled three doves out of his hat. Go to the Magic Castle in L.A. if you want to see magic. But don't come here."
John said fans were also upset they had to turn in their cell phones before entering the theater.
"Everybody said the biggest 'Mindfreak' is you're gonna get your phone back," he griped. "Never have I wanted to get my money back. I want my money back."
Hearing him say that, Gail warned him about Angel's tough-guy image: "John, you're gonna have him knocking on your door!"
"They need to know if it's not good," John insisted.
But Gail said the show is salvageable if the magic acts are perfected.
And Ranger was glad about one thing. After spending $55 for cheap seats -- tickets are discounted by 25 percent during these first run of "ticketed previews" -- he was given a free drink coupon.
"The best thing was getting this free drink coupon - the worst $55 Bud Light I'll ever have."
Doug Elfman's column appears on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Contact him at 383-0391 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.