Criss Angel: Long Island’s Master of Illusion

CLU_5050-1 (1)
Criss Angel

Criss Angel may look intimidating and his magic may play tricks with your mind but, beneath the goth exterior — black leather, chains, eyeliner and tattoos — is a soft-spoken, polite person humbled by his fans, his love for the art, and the charity he started on behalf of his son.

While on the road gearing up for his sold-out show at Caesers Windsor in Canada, Angel was excited to talk to the Press about his latest shot, RAW – The Mindfreak Unplugged, happening on his home turf during a limited engagement at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater, part of the “In Residence on Broadway” series running from July 2 to 7.

This native Long Islander, born Christopher Nicholas Sarantakos, whose fascination with magic began when he was 6 years old and whose first “major” illusion was making his mother float in the family den, has come a long way. Angel, who admits he’s a perfectionist, has spent most of his life honing his craft and stunning audiences here and abroad, and the payoff has been magical. 

Throughout the years, he’s garnered massive attention for his genius. Some of the most recent honors include the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) Award from Vanish Magic Magazine; Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Brotherhood of Magicians (Angel is the youngest recipient of this distinguished honor, approved unanimously by the organizations board of trustees). And, his Hollywood Walk of Fame star (there are only a few magicians who have been so honored). 

These days, Angel and his family reside in Las Vegas. He filmed the A&E network TV series at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino there and was at the Luxor Las Vegas for a decade. He started his headline residency at Planet Hollywood in December 2018 with Mindfreak, dubbed an immersive evolution of magic.

A building implosion in front of 50,000 people in Clearwater, Florida, his upside down double straightjacket escape with noose and weight in Times Square, his levitation above the Luxor in a light beam, and walking on water are some of the eye-popping, cringe-worthy performances he’s known for.

Despite all the fame and world-renowned status, he is a Long Islander at heart, loud and proud. This month he is ready to come home to see his fans, friends and family and perform a show that he describes as “mind blowing” that’s been 20 years in the making. 

Angel spoke candidly about his early days when pounding the pavement waiting for his big break, the dangers of his craft, his love of pizza, and his new mission in life. 

Read on. It’s epic. Criss Angel RAW The Mindfreak Unplugged

What would you say sets this show apart from others you have done? This show really takes my most incredible demonstrations I have done on television, many of them for the very first time, and brings them to life onstage in a very intimate setting including one of my demonstrations, my levitation where I levitate and fly and pick a person up in pure light only a few feet away from the audience.  

How does Mindfreak differ from RAW? Mindfreak is over 2,000 lights and over a billion pixels of video and a spectacular immersive experience. A spectacle. This show [Raw] is me, raw, unplugged, basically in your face. It focuses on the magic I have done that blew people’s minds on television; now I get to perform in an intimate setting as if I am hanging out with you in your living room. 

When was the last time you did a show in New York? My last time I performed on Broadway was in Times Square. I performed Mindfreak in 2001. I did it for about 600 performances at the WWE [World Wrestling Entertainment nightclub]. I created a theater in the basement. It was a banquet room I transformed. I called it the underground theater.

How does it feel coming back to New York? It is going to be amazing and I am so looking forward to it. It’s kind of coming full circle. I’ve always wanted to play a legitimate Broadway house. Here is the opportunity of a lifetime to play at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater where my childhood idol once performed, Doug Henning in 1986 and his World of Magic. To be on the same stage Doug was on is pretty epic. 

Take us back to the early years. I grew up in Elmont and then East Meadow. I still have a lot of family on Long Island. Coming out to Long Island gets very sentimental to me because I get to reminisce about the days that I used to pound those streets, spending endless amounts of time on the Long Island Rail Road and the subway trying to get a break. 

What kept you going? I think for me tenacity, passion, and intuitiveness were the key ingredients of success. Basically, I knew I had something special to offer and even though people didn’t see it and wouldn’t give me the time of day, I wanted to prove them wrong.

When were you first introduced to magic? My Aunt Stella taught me my first card trick when I was six years young so I drove everyone crazy performing the same card trick over and over again, so my Aunt Stella is to blame. 

Sounds like that is when the journey began. I’d go to the Hicksville Magic Shop. That is all I thought of at the time. Magic and music, that was my life back then.

I do remember The Magic Shop on Hempstead Turnpike for magic stuff and face paint. The Magic Shop is no longer there. I actually bought a lot of the stuff that were collectors’ items. I created a magic shop that looks like that shop, in Las Vegas in my studio.

Any memories you can share? I’d spend the afternoons there. My mom would drop me off. I would look at stuff and when other magicians would come in I’d want to pick their brains. I just wanted to be in that world. 

Was there one trick that skyrocketed you to fame? I spent 24 hours underwater when I opened up Mindfreak on Broadway in 2001. That really captured a lot of attention. It was on the cover of the New York Post. I was the first person to ever do that. 

1968 balancing on Dads hands
Criss Angel balancing on his dad’s hands in 1968.

Do you have a favorite trick? I think my favorite one is definitely the levitation because I have worked the longest on it. No one has ever seen anything like this or has done anything like this. 

Just hearing you talk about it sounds like you get such a rush. To do this levitation when I perform it and hearing the audience and how they jump to their feet and stand and applaud when they see it, is so rewarding. I guess for me with everything I have done, this one was the most difficult to pull off and bring to Broadway. Where people dream to fly I actually do fly.

What is it about the craft of magic and the allure? For me, magic is not about how I do it. It is more about how you feel when you watch it. Do you feel like crying? Do you feel excited? Are you scared? What kind of thrill does it give you? 

Can you give us a teaser of what fans can expect at your show? My goal is to create a roller-coaster ride of excitement of twists and turns. To keep people invested emotionally and keep a connection. Keep the show constantly changing and transforming so they don’t know what is going to happen. 

You seem to have this power over people. How does that make you feel? When you see a girl that comes up to you that has 19 tattoos that are Criss Angel it really boggles your mind. When you have guys coming up to you — and I have met so many on this tour — with tattoos of you it really blows your mind because I’ve connected to them. 

What is the most dangerous thing that you have ever done? I have done a lot of things on television that have put me in the hospital. When I do the show Raw there are inherent dangers that can kill me or injure me seriously in the show. I do it because that is what the audience comes to expect from me. 

When you are so focused during a performance, is the audience ever distracting? The energy of the audience is just insane. I love people standing up. I love the craziness of it. 

Any favorite places you like to go on LI? I am a pizza connoisseur. I go Out East to this pizza joint called Cafe Gia. There is also one by my mom’s house called Two Brothers Pizza. It’s my favorite pizza.

I wanted to congratulate you on the birth of your second son and the wonderful news that your oldest boy is cancer free. Can you tell us a little bit about your son’s charity, the Johnny Crisstopher Children’s Charitable Foundation? One child every two minutes dies of cancer. I have been working with kids since 2001 and had a passion for kids that are going through pediatric cancer. Then I had my own son; before he was 2 years young, he was diagnosed with pediatric cancer. He went through three years of chemo treatment every day, spinal taps, blood transfusions, all sorts of horrible things. Now he is in remission for almost six months. Thank God, and that is beautiful and we just hope and pray he remains there for the rest of his life. I know that he will. 

How has this experience changed you? I just dedicated my life, even more, to try and raise awareness and money for pediatric cancer. I have raised millions of dollars with 100 percent of every cent I raise going to research and treatment for pediatric cancer. If people want more information they can go to crissangel.com.

Is there anything else you want to share with your fans here on Long Island? When I talk about Long Island in my show there are always people in the audience that scream that they are from Long Island so we all have a connection no matter where I am. If I am in Las Vegas or on Broadway, Long Island is always the most special place in my heart and I am just so grateful to have been born on Long Island and have had the experience of growing up on Long Island.