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DelGaudio grew up in Colorado, where he was raised by a single mom, a lesbian firefighter. "It was a complicated childhood," says DelGaudio, who's now 29. "She got into a nasty separation from her partner, there was alcohol, and it was ugly." He took refuge in magic. "It was an escape path in a lot of ways. It was like, I'd go to my room and shuffle."
As a teen, DelGaudio saw one of his magician heroes do a corporate gig in a hotel suite and watched as the audience left, gabbing about how they thought it was done. To them it was just tricks—nothing more. "I was devastated," he says. "This is one of the best in the world, and this is how people leave his show. What chance do I have? Why bother?"
So DelGaudio left magic, moving to L.A. to study theater. But three years later, he was offered a magic gig and needed the money. So he did one, then another and another.
Eventually he met Guimarães, who had come to L.A. to perform at the Magic Castle—a famed private magic club in a Hollywood Victorian mansion—after his win at the World Championships. DelGaudio introduced himself and they struck up a friendship. When Guimarães was in the process of moving to town to stay, he slept on DelGaudio's couch for three months.
DelGaudio found his new friend's passion inspiring.
"It radiated from him: He loves doing what he does. And I don't like doing what I do," DelGaudio recalls thinking. "I don't think what I do has any value."
In early 2012, DelGaudio was supposed to perform with another magician at the Magic Castle. When that arrangement fell through, he asked Guimarães to step in.
The pair discovered they have distinct but compatible goals. Guimarães wants to find the most impossible mystery—one that'll blow your mind, engineered for maximum effect. DelGaudio wants to find the most meaningful mystery.
A hint of DelGaudio's philosophy comes through in his collaborations with artist Glenn Kaino, a vet of the 2004 Whitney Biennial who is credited as artistic director of Nothing to Hide. In an event at the Kitchen in Chelsea, they cut actress China Chow in half and had audience members stroll between her two parts, calling it "A Walk Through China." For another performance, they stole artworks from booths at an art fair and loaded them into a box that was lifted 30 feet into the air. The box exploded, and the art disappeared.
The duo's show at the Magic Castle proved so popular that it was brought back again and again. Celebrities like Ryan Gosling and Eva Mendes could be found clamoring for a spot in the 50-seat theater.
Neil Patrick Harris, in addition to his many other duties, is president of the Academy of Magical Arts, the society based at the Castle. He helped transfer the show to the Geffen, where he directed it, and he now reprises those duties in New York.
"The rehearsal ends up being more of a brainstorming session," Harris says. "My job is to fill them with confidence and encouragement—authentically. Not to blow smoke up their asses and say it's going to be great, but to point them in the right direction."
After the successful run at the Geffen, New York was the next logical step. But DelGaudio and Guimarães had trouble lining up the right producer.
"We had propositions who clearly wanted to make money out of the show, as opposed to just supporting the project," Guimarães recounts. "They wanted us to do that show in a bigger room and maybe use, like, projections."
Tom Werner had seen the show after hearing about it from Hollywood friends. He wondered why it hadn't gotten an East Coast run—so he called the guys and offered to produce one himself.
In addition to co-owning the Boston Red Sox and the English Premier League's Liverpool Football Club, Werner has co-produced sitcoms such as Roseanne and The Cosby Show with partner Marcy Carsey. But he has never produced theater.
"The whole thing is a bit of a lark," Werner says, adding that when he asked veteran Broadway producer Bill Haber to join him, the latter replied, "I'm happy to do this with you, but are you prepared to lose all your money?"
The initial budget is less than $1 million, Werner says; in order to break even, the show must extend beyond its scheduled six-week run. "One thing that is very much like good television and good entertainment is if you deliver a good product, then the economics hopefully will take care of themselves," he says.
Guimarães and DelGaudio are inured to operating in a world that conspires against their chosen field.
"That's no joke when we say magic is irrelevant," DelGaudio says. Back in the day, audiences went to magic shows in order to be transported, he goes on—to be "reminded that we live in a world beyond what we know. And now we go to movies for that. And now we have iPads for that. I think that makes it even more beautiful when it is made relevant again."
Zachary Pincus-Roth is arts and culture editor of LA Weekly, where a version of this story was originally published.