California Bucket List

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Family-friendlyOrange County

Gape at the strangely compelling Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach

 (From the 2017's pageant, themed "The Grand Tour." Courtesy Pageant of the Masters)
(From the 2017's pageant, themed "The Grand Tour." Courtesy Pageant of the Masters)

Why: Because if you’re going to do something loony involving old artworks, living people and an open-air stage, you might as well do it with passion, precision and invention for decades, until your act involves a live orchestra, gondola, actors, singers, dancers, horses, balloons and a $230 tab for a seat up front.

What: Laguna Beach’s Pageant of the Masters has its roots in 1932, when the artsy area was looking for a spectacle to lure Olympic visitors south from Los Angeles. The core idea is a tableau vivant— an arrangement of live models in poses (and costumes and backdrops) to mimic famous artworks, peppered with visual, narrative and musical surprises. All these years later, this summer event usually recreates about 40 great artworks (mostly paintings, but not all), organizing them by an annual theme and attaching a loose plot to keep the evening moving. 

Until you see one of these things, you may expect a static event with occasional muted tennis-tournament applause. Not so. Witty narration, music, acting, projected animation and old-fashioned schtick all play parts in creating a strangely potent, family-friendly night of entertainment in a 2,600-seat amphitheater. Dozens of professionals pitch in along with perhaps 500 volunteers. And because the area’s artists are still eager to sell, there’s also an juried art show with widely varied works from 140 artists (this year presented in a newly rebuilt complex of indoor-outdoor gallery structures). 

The 2017 pageant, which opened July 7 and closes  Aug. 31, was titled “The Grand Tour,” featuring scenes from throughout Europe, including posters from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show on tour. Shows are nightly at 8:30 p.m. By long-standing custom, the final scene is Leonardo’s “Last Supper.”  The theme for 2018: “Under the Sun.”

Back stage, "The Grand Tour." (Don Leach / Daily Pilot)
Back stage, "The Grand Tour." (Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

Where: 650 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach, about half a mile north of Laguna’s Main Beach, 50 miles southeast of downtown L.A.

How much: Tickets run $15-$230. (My $36 seat was five rows from the very back, but the view was just fine.) Binoculars rentals, $10. Seat cushions, $3. And if you don’t arrive three hours early, you’ll probably need to pay for parking. 

Info: Festival of Arts Pageant of the Masters

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