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St. Petersburg illusionists conjure magic theater

The Vegas-level act sells out most weekend shows.
Illusionists Chris, left, and Ryan Zubrick, far right with their assistant, Analise Williams, at the Zubrick Magic Theatre in St. Petersburg.
Illusionists Chris, left, and Ryan Zubrick, far right with their assistant, Analise Williams, at the Zubrick Magic Theatre in St. Petersburg. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Nov. 3
Updated Nov. 6

The tiny Zubrick Magic Theatre in St. Petersburg is quickly filling up before the 7 p.m. show as magician Chris Zubrick, 39, scans the audience from a laptop backstage.

He’s checking the sound and lighting, but he’s also looking for the body language that will tell him he’s found some willing volunteers in the audience who will help in his comic magic act. His stage partner and husband, Ryan Zubrick, 36, has a flock of birds at the ready for a sleight of hand trick that will astonish the crowd.

The pair had a 13-year run performing overseas at hotels on the islands of Saipan and Guam. The COVID-19 pandemic shut tourism down on the islands and they headed back to the U.S., only to find the entertainment scene here was also bleak.

Illusionist Ryan Zubrick checks out the audience at the Zubrick Magic Theatre before their show in St. Petersburg.
Illusionist Ryan Zubrick checks out the audience at the Zubrick Magic Theatre before their show in St. Petersburg. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

During a chance stop in St. Petersburg, the Michigan natives fell in love with the town. This would be where they would realize their “lifelong dream” of managing their own show and theater, Chris Zubrick said.

He said they had a gut feeling that once the pandemic subsided, it would be “like the Roaring ‘20s with a pent-up demand for entertainment.” He may be onto something. Friday and Saturday nights have been mostly sold out since they opened the theater this summer.

Related: 10 things to do with kids in November in the Tampa Bay area

“We knew that after the sun went down at the beaches, there was nothing for a family audience to do other than to go back to the resort,” Chris Zubrick said. “As an adult you can go out to bars, or you can listen to live music. But as a family there isn’t much to do.”

As parents to a 4-year-old-son, Oliver, they knew the struggle.

Illusionists Ryan, left, and Chris Zubrick perform one of their many sleight of hand tricks at the Zubrick Magic Theatre in St. Petersburg.
Illusionists Ryan, left, and Chris Zubrick perform one of their many sleight of hand tricks at the Zubrick Magic Theatre in St. Petersburg. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

They bought the old AAA call center on First Avenue N and designed an intimate 90-seat theater. Charging $40 per person, the Zubricks perform 70-minute shows on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

Both magicians got the magic bug as kids and found mentors as they developed their acts over the years. They’ve been together for 16 years now, married for nine of them. In 2018, they received one of the magic industry’s highest honors, the Merlin Award for Best Family Magic Show, presented by the International Magicians Society. Previous recipients include Criss Angel, Siegfried and Roy, Penn and Teller and David Copperfield.

They lured their assistant Analise Williams, who had worked with them in Guam for two years, to help with choreography and their “grand illusion” of chopping her up to bits in a box only to have her emerge sparkling and intact. It’s an act that could easily be at home in a big casino or a cruise ship.

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Illusionists Ryan Zubrick specializes in using birds in his magic act, making them appear and disappear on stage.
Illusionists Ryan Zubrick specializes in using birds in his magic act, making them appear and disappear on stage. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

The show has birds appearing and disappearing out of handkerchiefs. There’s a card trick where audience members call out random numbers. They call the number and the unknown caller on the other end of the line guesses the correct card.

They said the added bonus of being in a small theater is that the audience is just a few feet away as they pull off these manipulations. Audience surveys told them the small space makes the show especially compelling.

“They said it’s like having a show in your own living room,” Chris Zubrick said. “You get to meet us. You get to hear our story. In the intimate environment, you can’t pull a fast one because you aren’t so far away.”

They might soon add another Saturday show and a Sunday matinee because of audience demand, and the ultimate goal is to have shows five days a week.

“We are going to stay in our space for a few years because St. Pete is our forever home. If there’s room to expand I certainly would,” Chris Zubrick said. “But we still want to keep it an intimate show.”

And young Oliver will likely be in the act soon.

“Little Houdinis have to come from somewhere,” Chris Zubrick said.

If you ago

Zubrick Magic Theatre: A 70-minute show of family-friendly magic and illusions.

When and where: Shows are at 7 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 1211 First Ave. N, St. Petersburg.

Tickets: $40; 3 and younger free if sitting on an adult’s lap. VIP $137 for front-row seating for two adults, two beverages, one popcorn and one VIP gift. zubrickmagic.com. 1-866-982-7425. contact@zubrickmagic.com.