Laguna’s Pageant of the Masters: A Remarkable Show

This is all I can show you from the Pageant of the Masters, entrance to the outdoor arena in Laguna Beach, California.
This is all I can show you from the Pageant of the Masters, this is the entrance to the outdoor arena in Laguna Beach, California.

A Spectacular Combination of Music, Artwork, and Actors! We just got back from the 86th annual Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach California.  It was absolutely mind-blowing and exceeded my high expectations since I first heard about this tradition during a February 2015 visit to Laguna.

We had heard about the traffic bottleneck in Laguna Beach, so we planned ahead and parked up in the canyon and caught the shuttle bus to the arena.  We bought some dinner at Whole Foods and in a bit of a rush, found a place to eat in a shuttle bus stop with some people sitting there.

They turned out to be a group of down on their luck homeless men and women, and they immediately began talking to us.  We chatted with them about our trip, and soon left, but not before offering them the rest of Sofie’s pizza. They eagerly pounced on the boxes as we made our exit.

There is a reason it’s hard to find videos or photos of this remarkable show on the ‘net. That’s because there is a strict no-photo rule, which the art-loving audience embraces.  It’s truly so fantastic that nobody’s photos or even videos would do it justice.

The program begins with the big orchestra playing a theme that sounds just like a movie score, a bouncy opening number you’d swear was recorded, but there they are, the strings, the harp, the singers, the bassist, a full-on orchestra.  Later a bar is raised that covers the view of the musicians as the show begins, opening up like a play, with actors.

This year’s show theme was The Time Machine, based on the novel by H.G. Wells.  The first painting to come to life is the partner to the time traveler, she jumps out of a painting to join him in the new-fangled time machine doo-hickey.

The dramatic timbre of Richard Doyle’s narration begins with the premise, explaining the time machine as he sets the scene for us.  We would be following the guidance of the genius, Leonardo da Vinci, and quotes translated from his vast notebooks scrolled across the screen. The scenes bounce all over, from 1509 t0 1986, keeping the pace moving as the travelers discover different worlds via painting and sculpture.  The show uses projectors in creative ways, from beaming light from a robot across the stage to creating a phantom UFO way up high above the stage for a brief appearance like an apparition.

Everything happening on stage is accompanied by the rousing score, punctuating each poignant moment with just the right balance of strings, drums or vocals. Corey Hirsch, the conductor, has his hands full as the music never stops, and the show runs full tilt through two acts for a solid 120 minutes.

Pageant of the Masters Arena, Laguna Beach California.
Pageant of the Masters Arena, Laguna Beach California.

The narration, too, is nonstop as the nuances of the paintings are explained as real people pose inside the giant paintings on stage. It’s very hard to tell that they are alive, except when someone next to me handed me binoculars and I saw a few blinks.

I had an extra ticket so as we were waiting in line at Whole Foods, I got to chatting with a woman who was visiting Laguna from Maui. I offered her the ticket and she was thrilled. I was happy to share and it turned out she was very interested in art and had always wanted to see the Pageant of the Masters. Win-win!

This show uses the combined efforts of more than 500 volunteers, who work all summer to create this spectacle.  The musicians are all professionals playing the complicated score, and director Diane Challis Davy has been at the helm for 24 seasons.

I was sad that my grandson Nate didn’t see this because my granddaughter Sofie loved it so much. If you are ever in Southern California during the summer, make sure to get tickets for this unforgettable experience.