Something magical is happening in St. Augustine. Literally.
On May 27, the Magic Hideaway, an intimate, upscale, adult-geared experience opened at the Casa Monica Resort & Spa. The show is the creation of Bill Abbott, named Canadian Magician of the Year by the Canadian Association of Magicians, and his wife, Rebecca Abbott.
It’s a two-hour program that has audiences alternately laughing and gasping in astonishment. That’s because Abbott employs his comedic skills to put his audience at ease and misdirect their attention while setting up the unexpected reveal.
Recently, at the conclusion of a particularly puzzling illusion, one former skeptic declared: “I’m a believer.”
One reason Abbott’s approach is so effective is that he does close-up magic in a specially decorated room that seats only 22 people. It’s impossible to dismiss his illusions as one might some distant stage show or television production, where all sorts of trickery might be possible.
“It’s much more impactful,” he said. “People are so close that they can’t deny what’s happening.”
Not that Abbott can’t do the other kind of magic. As a youth, he was acquainted with David Copperfield’s illusion manager, from whom he bought several hand-made illusions. But he ultimately gravitated toward the style he now prefers.
When guests arrive at the Casa Monica’s Cobalt Lounge, they are admitted to a VIP area, where they can enjoy magic-themed cocktails — including The Magic Word, which releases a cloud of smoke when someone uses a small magic wand to pop a bubble atop the beverage.
Abbott mingles with the audience, performing a sleight-of-hand pre-show. House Manager Rebecca Abbott then ushers attendees into the Magic Hideaway showroom, with its curtained walls, palms, ornate Moroccan chandelier and glowing crystal balls on the tables.
Then, Bill Abbott takes everyone on a journey filled with astounding illusions, frequently with a lot of audience participation.
It’s easy to see why actor Samuel L. Jackson, who once hired Abbott to perform a show in Toronto, declared, “This man is incredible!”
Abbott has been interested in magic since he was 12 years old, the son of a concert pianist and an educator. He was paid to present shows at birthday parties when he was in high school and went on to supplement his college tuition by doing card tricks at night clubs and bars.
He earned a degree in social work and worked in the field for two years before being faced with a difficult choice.
“I had to made a decision,” he said, “because I was actually getting more and more bookings. I had to make a decision whether or not to stay there or to go. I chose magic, which was life-altering — and scary.”
In the early 2000s, the Abbotts launched Bill Abbott Magic, a company that supplies professional performers with props, routines and more. In 2010, they initiated their website and have gained customers from all over the world.
It was about this time that the Abbotts took their sons on a trip from their home in Toronto to Walt Disney World. On the advice of a friend, they stopped in St. Augustine.
“We fell in love with it,” Bill Abbott said. “We were like: ‘This place is fantastic!’”
The family kept returning during vacations until finally making the decision to settle here.
They rented a space in the Nation’s Oldest City with plans to open a theater with servers and a champaign room and an ambiance similar to a jazz club in Canada where Bill Abbott had done a successful show for several years.
But just as they were about to open, COVID-19 hit. At first, they thought it would be all over in a week. But as the months passed with no way to bring in audiences, they realized there was nothing to do but give up their lease.
Eventually, things began to reopen. People were going out again. And Bill Abbott wrote to Richard Kessler, chairman of CEO of The Kessler Enterprise, owner of the Casa Monica. He suggested the idea of bringing his magic show to the iconic hotel. Kessler agreed.
“He took a chance, and here we are,” said Abbott.
Abbott compared the process of inventing a new illusion to reverse-engineering.
“Magic is really problem-solving,” he said. “It’s like, we know what the end game is. How do I get there?”
And watching Abbott work, one realizes how much earlier in the show he sets up these endings.
After the show concludes, Abbott happily joins his audience back in the VIP area, where he patiently signs autographs and poses for photos with his fans.
The Magic Hideaway will be presented at 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 24 and 25. After that, shows will be offered at 6 and 8:30 p.m. each Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Tickets may be purchased at magichideaway.com/tickets.
Casa Monica Resort & Spa is located at 95 Cordova St. St. Augustine.