Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then how can one describe the spectacle of the Pageant of the Masters? The answer is that it can’t truly be described; it must be seen in person to fully appreciate its magnificence.

In a nutshell, the Pageant of the Masters is a world-renown stage show that 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.

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The Pageant of the Masters recreates classic paintings, such as Homer’s, “The Country School”

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.

Now in its 82nd season, the festival is located in Laguna Beach, two blocks from the ocean, in a rustic canyon setting. In addition to the art, the event offers free daily art workshops for the whole family, live Jazz and blues, wine tastings, cooking classes, restaurants and more.

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The Festival of Arts also offers fine food, local art and live music in a park-like setting 

But the highlight of the festival has to be the Pageant of the Masters, where each night a 90-minute show of tableaux vivants or living pictures 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 (including a bunch of adorable kids), who are painstakingly made-up with costumes and makeup to look exactly like images in classic paintings. The painting are then filled with authentic backdrops and wrapped by giant picture frames.

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The “pictures” are “painted” with real people

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 theme of the “paintings” at this year’s Pageant of the Masters is “The Pursuit of Happiness,” and it explores the many sources of happiness, both ancient and modern.

I attended opening night on July 7 and was left breathless at the artistry of it all.

The first “painting” of the night was an amazing recreation of Winslow Homer’s 1871 oil classic, “The Country School.” This work depicts a small, rural country school house with barefooted kids reading books and listening to a beautiful young teacher.

Another fabulous work on display is 1891’s “The Moon at a Vacation House” by Japanese artist Chikanobu, which shows colorful geisha’s girls strolling beneath a full moon, past bonsai trees and a bamboo house. Then there was the playful “Snap the Whip,” by Homer, which depicts a group of children playing a game in a field in front of an old red schoolhouse.

My favorite masterpieces of the night was “Betsy Ross Presenting Flag” by American painter Edward P. Moran. Painted on oil in 1917, this beautifully detailed piece shows Betsy Ross and two children presenting the US flag to George Washington.

The Festival of Arts and the Pageant of the Masters runs July 8 through August 31. The address is 650 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach, 92651. The festival is open daily, 10 am – 11:30 pm. Festival admission is $4 – $10. Pageant of the Masters has performances nightly at 8:30 pm. Ticket prices range from about $20 for the least expensive to about $225 for premium Saturday night seats. For more information, call (949) 494-1145 or visit: www.foapom.com

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Greg Aragon, Writer Greg's Getaway
Greg Aragon is a travel writer from Pasadena, California. For the past 15 years Greg has authored “Greg’s Getaway,” a popular travel column that covers the globe. In the course of writing Greg's Getaway, Greg has traveled to more than 25 countries in search of exciting destinations, people, food, drink and culture. From Alaska to Zermatt, Greg has experienced the thrill and beauty of traveling to the fullest. Along the way he has dog sledded on glaciers, drank with sea captains, danced with hula girls, dined with royalty, sung with street performers, wrestled with pigs, jumped from airplanes, conquered rapids, panned for gold, rode a rhino, slept in trees and much, much more. When not on the road, Greg enjoys strumming his old nylon string guitar and playing basketball.