The Marrakech Magic Theater show, crafted and led by magician Jay Alexander in San Francisco, is the hot ticket in town these days, generating most of its 50-seat audience by word-of-mouth and five-star reviews.

Virtuoso’s Matthew Upchurch recently attended the show, thanks to a recommendation from his friend, author and speaker Ken Dychtwald. “We arrived at the show, met Jay during the pre-show cocktails and snacks, and my mind was blown before the show even started.”

Last year, Alexander bought the Marrakech Magic Theater from a previous owner near Union Square in downtown San Francisco, and created his own show. The one-man show, which features human lie detection drinks and memory stunts, lasts about 90 minutes. One of the highlights: Mind Tricks, which “reminds us artfully what we all have in common,” Alexander says.

Before opening his theater, Alexander traveled the world for years performing at corporate events and on cruise ships, spending one week a month on board. He also kept VIP guests entertained for three Rolling Stones tours, and worked with Robin Williams and many other celebrities.

“After traveling for so long, I realized my favorite place to perform wasn’t a big theater, but a small, intimate experience for around 50 – I get to move people in a different way,” Alexander explains.

We talked to him about the show, and how he found his passion.

On building his magic show and theater.

“It feels magical to walk off the streets of San Francisco and be transported to another place. This space used to house one of the first Moroccan restaurants in the U.S. – it’s decked it out so it feels like you’re in a speakeasy.

I’ve always loved creating experiences. The magic is just one part of it. I’ve thought about everything from the second you walk in, from  the music you hear to the whole food and drink experience with Moroccan appetizers in our lounge – this is all before you enter the theater.

On famous tricks.

Our show is much more intellectual than most magic shows. A lot of multigenerational families come in – kids, families, grandparents. We have an incredible time without dumbing it down.

My famous tricks include a human lie detection routine; a book routine where someone opens up any book, picks a word, and I tell them what they’re thinking; and speed math routines. But I never perform in a style of, ‘Ha ha, I fooled you!’ It’s more like, ‘Let me show you something really fun and really cool.’

By the end, people feel like they all know each other – there was a common bonding experience and the show was special to them. I love connecting people.

On his background.

As a kid, I was unbelievably shy and had terrible dyslexia and a speech impediment. But on my 11th birthday, I found my passion. I saw Doug Henning [a famous magician] at a show in Houston, and after the show, I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ My grandfather got me a magic set and it changed my life in so many ways. Even though I went to speech therapy all the time, it made it clear why I wanted to learn to speak clearly.

I moved to San Francisco when I was 18, and put myself through college doing kids’ birthday parties and shows on the streets. My family kept saying, ‘You have to find something to fall back on,’ but I said, ‘I’d give myself two years and go from there.’ At first, it might seem like those things held me back, but they pushed me forward.

Magic changed my life.”

See the show: Thursday-Sunday nights, 6:30 and 9pm; $45 tickets for general admission; $55 for guaranteed front-row seat. Visit Marrakech Magic Theater for more information.