The first magic trick Rick Boretti ever mastered was a cut and restore rope trick, in which the magician appears to cut a length of rope in half, and with another flourish, the magician restores the pieces back into one rope. 

Boretti does this trick a few times during his second magic show of the season at the Backyard Theater, but he does it better: he cuts the rope into three, restoring and cutting it a few more times; he moves a knot between two ropes, then seemingly dissolves it; he knots and loops and twirls and cuts the rope in every way imaginable. Or not imaginable, since his magic tricks, true to their name, are impossible to follow. 

“Magic is a unique art form,” he said. “… And magic, I think, is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. It’s amazing how it affects people.” 

Boretti has performed magic at restaurants and hotels in Moab for years; now, he’s found only at the Backyard Theater. His theater show—rated five stars on TripAdvisor—runs for an hour every Saturday night during the season. 

Boretti invents his own tricks, he said, and he always tailors his shows to the audience. At the Backyard Theater, audiences range from families with young children to college-aged river guides: those audiences require two entirely different shows. 

Boretti’s signature phrase, which he says with a grin and a flourish, precedes the punchline of his tricks—when he seemingly chooses the wrong card, and when he’s about to set the trick right, he says: “But this is a magic show, and I’m a magician.” By the end of the show, the line is met by an anticipatory and focused silence from his audience. 

During the show, he uses a variety of props—ropes, cards, glasses of water, sketchpads. He does a trick where he calls up a child from the audience, has her sign a card with her name, signs a card himself, puts them in two separate decks, then switches the cards with only a clap. He does another where he places a bouncy ball into a child’s hands and tells them to grip it tightly; when he tells them to open their hands, multiple bouncy balls fall out. He conjures hot chocolate from a cup that he showed the audience was empty seconds earlier. He has a child pick a card from a deck and think of it in her head; he then draws the correct card on a sketchpad. 

In another card trick, he tells an adult in the audience to imagine a deck of cards. He then instructs the audience member to imagine selecting a card (“Not the ace of spades or the queen of hearts,” Boretti requests), to imagine tearing a corner off of that card, to imagine putting the card back in the deck. Boretti requests the deck is tossed back to him: he mimes catching it in a paper bag. He takes a box of cards out of the bag—“the bag of visibility”—and everyone knows what’s coming: as he takes the deck of cards out of their box, only one card is turned facedown. It is, of course, the chosen card, with a tear out of the corner. Like magic! 

Boretti learned most of his magic tricks from books, he said—books and other magicians. The magic community is small, and Boretti is part of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, the world’s largest organization “dedicated to the art of magic.”

[Alison Harford/Moab Sun News]

It’s reactions from adults that Boretti covets the most, he said: children are imbued with a sense of wonder, so their shock at magic tricks going right is nothing compared to adults. The key to wowing adults—Boretti said he’s had multiple people come up to him in tears after shows—is to show them tricks that they can’t begin to imagine how to unravel. 

“Adults always say magic brings them back to feeling like a child,” Boretti said. “What they’re saying is that subconsciously, they haven’t felt that sense of wonder in a long time.” 

No spoilers for the grand finale, which involved a series of tricks that built on top of each other. There was a $50 bill, a lighter, two lemons, an IOU, a card signed by a child in the audience, a fork, a blindfold, a knife, and many jokes; when it was over, it was met with awed gasps and stunned applause.

“This is a magic show,” Boretti said, “and I’m a magician.” 

The Saturday magic show starts at 7 p.m.; tickets are free for kids under 3, $5 for kids 12 and under, and $10 for everyone else.