[The Strip Sense]

What happens with Wanda …

Notes on a complete stranger who loves Criss Angel

Criss Angel’s collaboration with Cirque du Soleil, Believe, premieres tonight at the Luxor.
Cirqu du Soleil

This column was supposed to be about Criss Angel’s new theater. I didn’t want to waste my space on a review of the illusionist’s show itself, because so many other writers have chimed in with essentially the same message, which is that it’s terrible.

So instead, I was going to write about how un-Cirque-like the showroom for Criss Angel Believe is. I even got a quote from Cirque du Soleil CEO Guy Laliberte halfheartedly defending the decision not to make this theater the transformative, enveloping venue that his other five on the Strip are. In short, the theater also is terrible.

You see, my friend Trevor and I waltzed into the showroom for Angel’s big Halloween premiere as if we do this all the time, because, in fact, we do. My partner, Miles, doesn’t like these outings, so Trevor comes along. He knows how this works: bypass the red carpet, sit in always-great seats, spot some celebs, view the show, head off to some elaborate afterparty.

Then, before the show’s start, Wanda and her daughter bounced into the seats to my left. She could not contain her excitement, which was confusing because these audiences are filled with people as jaded as we are.

“Oh, I can’t believe this,” she told me. “This is just unbelievable.”

See, Wanda had been standing around the theater entrance hoping to spot some stars when some angel walked by and asked her if she wanted a pair of free tickets. She suspected the tickets were fakes, but here she was in the 12th row.

Wanda had never been to Vegas before. She had accompanied her husband, a rancher from Midland, Texas, who raises bucking bulls and was hobnobbing at the Professional Bull Riders Association events, hoping to become a supplier. A 43-year-old kindergarten teacher with a newborn back home, Wanda is a huge Criss Angel fan and had paid the night before to see Believe. Those seats, she said, were “way, way back. These are so much better!”

Wanda asked where we were from. When we told her we lived in Las Vegas, she said, “You must see a lot of celebrities all the time, then, huh?”

Believe Premiere

Actually, we told her, she was in the presence of many right now. We’d seen Penn and Teller and Carrot Top out in the lobby; Neil Patrick Harris had just passed our aisle; Mike Tyson was gnawing on something somewhere behind us.

Wanda’s eyes widened. “Are you a celebrity?” she asked me.

I giggled at the thought. “Uh, no,” I said.

“Well, what do you do?”

Trevor jumped in. “He’s a writer,” he said. “He writes for magazines and newspapers.”

“Have I ever heard of any of them?” Wanda asked.

I felt silly, so Trevor answered. “You might have. He writes for Newsweek and USA Today sometimes.”

Wanda’s eyes got even wider. “Well, then, you are a celebrity!” she gasped.

I was about to crack wise about how—and this is sadly true—I had gotten recognized the weekend before in the men’s room at the rest area in Primm by a Nevada Week in Review watcher as Miles and I were returning from a wedding in California. But thankfully, the show started.

Wanda and her daughter loved it—again. When it was over and Angel received the obligatory opening-night standing ovation, I spotted more celebrities for Wanda’s collection. There, I told her, was Siegfried of Siegfried & Roy fame. There were Kate and Charlie from Lost. “Is that Paris Hilton?” I mused. (Trevor’s unhelpful response: “No, that doesn’t look like Paris.” Thanks, Trevor.)

As we parted, Wanda asked how one gets into the premiere party. We explained she needed to have dog tags they handed out to invitees. She took that in stride and asked my name so she could Google me. I gave her a business card.

Trevor and I went to the bash, an extravagant event around the Luxor pool with dozens of elaborate food and beverage stations for the pleasure of the usual cadre of entitled celebrities, media folk, management and beautiful people loitering about.

Just as we wearied, Trevor noticed Wanda and her daughter walking by. He called out to her.

Sneak Peak at Believe

How did they get in?

“Well, it’s a funny story,” she said. “I went up to the VIP desk out there, and I asked if we needed something to get into the party. He said you had to be invited. So I showed him your business card.”

Uh, what?

“Yes, and he took your business card and went away for a moment, and he came back out and gave us a pair of these”—pointing to her chained dog tag hanging from her neck—“and here we are!”

Trevor and I were both dying. There was a little more chatter—what, was I supposed to chastise this sweet stranger for illicitly using my name when I could barely imagine why it actually worked?—but then Wanda gave me her e-mail address and was on her way.

I didn’t know what to make of any of it. Trevor put it in perspective.

“This has to be the most exciting night Wanda’s ever had,” he said. “I mean, think about it. She goes to Vegas with her husband, and she ends up in a free show on premiere night and then at a party with all this food and celebrities. Just think of what she’ll have to tell her kindergartners!”

Well, maybe her fellow teachers, anyway. But it was true—Las Vegas had proven magical to Wanda. Where else could this have possibly have happened to her?

It was quite instructive to me. While I can’t do my job if I’m in awe of celebrities, and I can’t get excited every time I attend an over-the-top event, it is very useful every now and again to see our world from Wanda’s perspective. What is run-of-the-mill to me is the thrill of a lifetime to her. You’d be amazed how easy it is to forget that.

So Wanda, this column’s for you. There. Now maybe you can feel like a celebrity, too. Just stay out of the restrooms in Primm.


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