Laguna Beach’s Pageant of the Masters celebrates its 80th anniversary

This year’s theme is “The Big Picture,” a salute to classic art that inspired legendary filmmakers.

LAGUNA BEACH – Nothing can make Jeanette Shelly miss a Pageant of the Masters.

The Irvine resident first attended the Laguna Beach event with her family in 1952 – when she was 6 years old – and she has gone every year since.

Article Tab: Actors portray a tableaux of The Family of Henry VIII, a portrait featured in this years Pageant of the Masters. King Henry VIII and his royal line have been favorite subjects for dozens of films and television series. The theme this year is The Big Picture, a salute to classic art that inspired legendary filmmakers.
Actors portray a tableaux of “The Family of Henry VIII,” a portrait featured in this years Pageant of the Masters. King Henry VIII and his royal line have been favorite subjects for dozens of films and television series. The theme this year is “The Big Picture,” a salute to classic art that inspired legendary filmmakers.
A cast of hundreds

•Cast members: 268

•Cast members in each performance: 134

•Cast members in full body makeup: 20

•Production volunteers: More than 500

•Attendees on opening night: 2,600

•Performances in 2013: 56

Source: Sharbie Higuchi, marketing director

“It’s magical,” Shelly, 67, said. “They always surprise me. There’s something new every time.”

On Sunday, Shelly was one of 2,600 art enthusiasts to attend opening night for the pageant, which is celebrating its 80th anniversary this summer.

Attendees came from across Orange County and beyond, packing into the Irvine Bowl and waiting with hushed enthusiasm for the sun to disappear behind the hills and the show to begin.

As the 28 musicians in the orchestra began to play, the curtain lifted and a spotlight shone to the left of the stage, where six motionless figures stood in a frozen likeness of Michelangelo’s “Tomb of Pope Julius II,” transporting an enthusiastic audience to Italy. They could not clap enough.

“It’s hard to believe what you are seeing,” said Carol Kirkwood of Huntington Beach.

The event started in 1933 as a parade of pictures. And though it now attracts an audience from across Southern California, it is a uniquely Orange County tradition.

“It’s just so Laguna,” Shelly said. “It’s just a part of this town.”

Fans like Shelly – who also volunteers for the festival in her spare time – come year after year. For many pageant devotees, there is a ritual involved. They meet up with friends or relatives, have dinner at Tivoli Terrace, wander the attached Festival of the Arts grounds.

“It’s something all generations can enjoy,” said Mary Montgomery of Anaheim, who brought her mother and 89-year-old grandmother to the event. “It’s just fun for everyone.”

The show, which features a live orchestra and 134 cast members in intricate costumes recreating 40 works of art, runs nightly through Aug. 31.

“She keeps asking, ‘What is it?'” said Kathleen Alletto, a longtime pageant fan who brought her 9 year-old stepdaughter to the show for the first time on Sunday. “I can’t even explain it. You just have to see it. And once you do, you’re hooked.”

In addition to familiar paintings such as Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” this year the pageant is also recreating classic movie scenes for its theme, “The Big Picture.”

Among the films featured is Harold Lloyd’s classic 1923 silent film, “Safety Last!” Lloyd had close friends in Laguna Beach and was a regular attendee at the pageant.

“My grandfather loved Pageant of the Masters,” said Lloyd’s granddaughter, Suzanne, who was in attendance Sunday. “I think he just couldn’t believe the ingenuity of the artist, and how they put it together and how truly depictive it was of the works of art.”

What makes the event special said fan Art Alisi, is that it becomes a traditional gathering place for scattered friends. Alisi, who moved from Laguna Beach to Calabasas years ago, said he has been to every pageant for the last 25 to 30 years.

Alisi met around 40 friends at a preview night for the pageant on Saturday.

Though he has gone year after year, he said the experience never gets old.

“There’s no other place in the world you can see this type of work,” Alisi said.

$ell SmArt… with Art!