It's always interesting to take a look at those reviews that run dramatically contrary to the vast majority. If they're done well, you have to respect the writer, as was the case of Encore dissenter Tony Illia of CityLife, whose piece I linked to and mildly examined the other day. He gave his opinion and his reasons and you didn't have a sense that he had an axe to grind. He was just calling it as he saw it.
Thus we come to the curious case of Travis Michael Holder who gave an off-the-charts rave review of Criss Angel Believe at the Luxor for EntertainmentToday.Com. The strangest thing about this review is that he began by essentially declaring pretty much the entire Vegas-reviewing press corps incompetent. To wit, this is the start of his second paragraph:
"[T]he reviews of Cirque du Soleil’s sixth and newest permanent Las Vegas extravaganza, Criss Angel’s Believe, which opened Halloween night at the sadly un-Egyptifying Luxor Hotel, have been decidedly mixed. For me, the problem is that most critics have forgotten to wipe away all those nasty expectations and have failed to keep that slate clear as though they’ve never seen a Cirque du Soleil production performed before."
Uh, Mr. Holder, the reviews haven't been "decidedly mixed." They've been "decidedly horrendous." Your positive review was the only one that the creators of the online Cirque-fan newsletter Fascination could find that was even remotely kind. They excerpted yours after providing links to negative reviews from the UNLV Rebel Yell, the Toronto Star, the L.A. Times,Bodog Beat and the Las Vegas Sun. And, again, Mr. Holder, if you're going to hop into the brains of all reviewers who disagree with you and explain to the world their either crooked or inept methods and motives, be prepared to hear my suspicions about yours.
In a minute, though. First, I need to show my readers what a sycophant you sound like. Here's some more of this review:
"Guaranteed, if this had been the first exposure to the continuously stellar work offered by the Cirque—or, for that matter, a first look at the individual style and signature talents of Criss Angel—those same writers would have been sufficiently awestruck."
Guaranteed!!! Here's some more:
"Angel says Believe is the culmination of a lifelong dream and frankly, I for one think he should be proud as hell for what he has accomplished along with the inimitable sanction of the Cirque’s unwavering and unrestricted support for the innovative methods its artists need to create. ... Don’t let anyone tell you different: this is a haunting one-of-a-kind production that truly defies anyone’s expectations, even the creators’ original concepts, I’m sure....[The plot leads to a] gorgeously psychedelic hallucination inhabited by demonic forest creatures of all shapes, sizes and robotic functions on a sweepingly dark and grandly atmospheric set..."
Mr. Holder has a strange theory as to why the critics AND AUDIENCES were so hard on this and it goes like this:
"This must also be the problem for a lot of patrons not in the business of writing about theatre but instead perhaps, as diehard Cirque du Soleil fans, think Angel’s in-your-face style of non-traditional roughhewn sleight-of-hand gets in the way of the company’s lyrical dreamlike splendor, while the generally rabid Angel fans must equally feel balletic rabbits and Eric Serra’s ethereal musical score have nothing to do with watching their Joe Pesci-voiced rockstar-y Goth-dripping New Yaawk-bred cult hero let himself be run over by 20-ton industrial steamrollers. See, again: if no one had any preconceptions of what to expect, I’m convinced no one would be disenchanted with Believe for a minute."
Well, ain't real life a bitch? Both Cirque and Angel have developed reputations and brands. This show fails to deliver the better sides of what either is known for. Both sides are counting on said reputation and brand to propel ticket sales. It's why they believed that people would want to come to the show and precisely how they built hype for the production. But when reviewers and fans of either don't find that which they have come for, it's not Cirque or Angel's faults. No, the whole world just doesn't get it.
Except here's the strange thing. After several paragraphs of fellatio-level praise, even Mr. Holder shows that he understands why so many people don't enjoy this production. A few lines earlier it was defying anyone's expections, something to be wholeheartedly proud of, etc. Mr. Holder is nothing if not colorful and descriptive in his account of what happens in the show.
And then, suddenly, he's being honest. Mr. Holder calls the tricks "surprisingly, all fairly standard illusions." Angel's acting needs work because he is "not yet someone who has found his sea-legs as an actor." Mr. Holder even mocks Angel's "Lon-gah Island-tinged accent" (as one who has such an accent, I must say that it's "Lon-giland") and compares it to the Tony Curtis "Yondah lies da castle of my fadda" thing.After that, Mr. Holder returns to blowjob mode, referring ot Angel's "exceptional talents, unstoppable imagination and streetwise charisma" in concluding that Believe will someday belong in the Mystere-O pantheon.
So what's going on here? I actually do not believe that Mr. Holder was trying to get his name in a marquee. I went looking around at who Mr. Holder is. He has a website and here's his resume.
Mr. Holder is a performer, writer and artist. That resume is impressive. He's been around show business a very long time. Certainly, he's no break-out star, but anyone who has that much in his vitae deserves respect. And I suspect that Mr. Holder has been in his share of things that earned plaudits and that were viciously savaged. That's the nature of the beast with a resume that varied.
So here's my conclusion: Mr. Holder feels sorry for Criss Angel. I actually do, too, but I wouldn't allow that sympathy to cloud my recommendation about how other people should spend hundreds of dollars. But Mr. Holder didn't spend that; he was comped as most of the media is in these circumstances. Mr. Holder didn't have to take that into account that he had just spent money that could go for a few hours at the craps table or a nice dinner.
It is Mr. Holder, not the rest of the press corps, who was unable to set aside his preconceptions and biases. And his bias is towards encouraging and lauding anyone who takes the enormous risk of getting up on stage before thousands of people to entertain them. He knows how hard that is and he probably knows what it's like to be torn down by people who have never taken that chance.
But Mr. Holder also knows that this show does not achieve greatness. He admits as much when he ackowledges that the tricks are run-of-the-mill, the faux-sponaneity is jarring and the acting is lousy. It's a magic show. What's left after you run through all of that?