By Greg Aragon
Southern California is full of beauty and magic, and one the region’s most unique and mesmerizing spectacles is the Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach. Held each summer in an open-air canyon theater, the event is something that any lover of art and culture should experience at least once.
Now in its 85th season, the world-renown stage show incredibly recreates and brings to life famous paintings with a group of live, motionless models and beautiful backdrops set within huge picture frames on a massive outdoor stage, with a professional orchestra, live narration, and sophisticated lighting.
Located in a rustic Laguna Beach canyon, two blocks from the ocean, The Pageant’s 90-minute nightly performances are highlighted by tableaux vivants, or living pictures, that take the 2,000-seat Irvine Bowl Park stage in the corner of the festival grounds.
The “pictures” are remarkable re-creations of classical and contemporary masterpieces, “painted” with real people, painstakingly made-up with costumes and makeup. The paintings are then filled with authentic backdrops and wrapped by giant picture frames. When the curtain is lifted, each 90-second-long picture is accompanied by an orchestra with an original score, a live narration, and sophisticated lighting.
The title of this year’s Pageant is “Under the Sun.” This production will honor masterpieces including works by Leonardo da Vinci, Kleitsch, Rosenthal, Monet, Kuntz, Sargent, and Wasil. Staying with tradition, the finale of the Pageant will feature Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.”
In the early years of the 20th century, a new generation of impressionists and plein air painters set up their easels outdoors and reveled in the natural beauty to be found as far as the eye could see. In the 2018 show, “Under The Sun,” theatrical magic, live music and light-hearted storytelling will honor Laguna’s own and other artistic pioneers from around the world who left their studios in search of new inspiration.
There’ll also be no shortage of fun and surprises as the Pageant acknowledges two local milestones: the 85th anniversary of “living pictures” at the Festival of Arts and the 100th anniversary of Laguna Art Museum.
“This will be my 34th year with the Pageant and the passion and dedication from the designers, volunteers, make-up artists, Pageant Director, and everyone involved truly shows in the masterpieces created,” says Richard “Butch” Hill, technical director and lighting designer for the pageant.
One of my favorite “paintings” from act one of the show is “Mexican Cattle Drive in Southern California” by American William Hahn. This oil masterpiece from 1883 goes with the heading of “The Ranchos.” In act two, I was drawn to “Luncheon on the Grass” by Claude Monet. This 1865 picnic scene shows men and women dressed up in lavish clothing as they enjoy a sunny picnic.
The pageant is part of the larger Festival of Arts, a summer-long celebration of art and artists. This year’s festival showcases the works of 140 of Orange County’s best original painters, sculptors, ceramists, jewelers, and photographers. The festival also offers free daily art workshops for the whole family, live Jazz and blues, wine tastings, cooking classes, restaurants and more. In 2017, the Festival of Arts debuted its brand new $10 million facility which features a new layout for the art exhibit area, workshops, a gift shop, and concert stage. Admission to the festival is $10. For more information, visit LagunaFestivalofArts.org.
During my visit to Laguna Beach for the festival and Pageant of the Masters last year, I stayed at The Ranch at Laguna Beach, a luxurious and rustic resort, set next to a flowing stream, in a lush canyon a few hundred yards from the Pacific Ocean. For more information and reservations, call (800) 223-3309 or visit theranchlb.com.
The 2018 Pageant of the Masters will amaze audiences nightly through Sept. 1 with 90-minutes of tableaux vivants. The address is 650 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach, CA 92651. The festival is open daily, 10 a.m. – 11:30 p.m. Festival admission ranges from $5 – $12. Pageant of the Masters has performances nightly at 8:30 p.m. Pageant tickets range from $15 – $250 depending on seat location and date. For more information on tickets and special discounts, call (949) 494-1145 or visit foapom.com or PageantTickets.com