Regional Theater Preview: THE GRAND TOUR (Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach)

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by Tony Frankel on July 10, 2017

in Extras,Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


Pageant of the Masters, now in its 83rd year, is a singularly unique entertainment that has perfected the art of tableaux vivants (“living pictures”). With world-class designers and over 600 volunteers (including actors and a research team), this elegant and classy outfit—equal parts museum, play, concert, and lecture—re-creates for seated spectators at the Irvine Bowl classical and contemporary paintings, sculptures, and other works of art (click on photos below for larger images). Supported by a 30-piece orchestra, terrific writing, superlative artisans, and a top-notch narrator, you cannot find a better way to spend a summer night under the stars.

But the selection of works is hardly random. A different theme is selected annually. The theme at this year’s show—which runs through August 31, 2016—looks at 17th- and 18th-century explorers who, often at great risk, traveled by land and sea to experience the great cultural centers of Europe, and later the globe, to stand in the presence of masterpieces, such as da Vinci & Verrocchio’s The Anunciation (1472-1475) and Tiepolo’s Minuet (1756) (pageant recreations pictured above and below).

Pageant’s director Diane Challis Davy puts that time into perspective: “I was curious about the tremendous difficulties travelers encountered in the 18th century, with horse-drawn coaches on unpaved roads and no railways, no hotels. Even restaurants hardly existed, and there were virtually no public museums.” Doing most of her traveling on Google, Davy admits that she has a fantasy about actual travel and sightseeing, and that’s what inspired The Grand Tour.

There’ll be no shortage of masterpieces in the 2017 Pageant, including works by Longhi, Watteau, Reynolds (Sir William Hamilton, 1777, above) and Romney (Emma Hart, Lady Hamilton as Circe, 1782, also above). But, as in previous years, the production’s theme will expand to include American artists like Archibald Motley (The Jockey Club, 1929, below).

Every year without fail, one of the highlights is a glimpse into the making of these living works. In dim light, the background set—inside a giant shadow box—rolls onto the playing area facing upstage. Next, the costumed cast members—bewigged and body- and face-painted (including shadows)—assume their stance as they are posed by stage managers: An arm stretched this way, a head turned that way, a knee bent. (Sometimes, the detailed costumes are half-worn and half-painted on the set.) Once they are in place, a massive frame is adjusted to fit the “canvas.” But as the stage lights come up, the magic transpires: Individual elements, silent and motionless, cease to exist as they melt into the background and transform the scene into a living work of art, such as Edouard Alexndre Sain’s Excavations at Pompeii (1865), below, where you see both recreation and the original oil, which resides at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris.

The photos you see here show volunteer Jessica being prepared for this year’s presentation of a poster of Annie Oakley (A. Hoen & Co., Baltimore, 19th century): with make-up designer Allyson Doherty; Master Carpenter David Talbot and Pageant Poser Paul Goldie help situate her on the set; and the final recreation.

Tickets are always a hot commodity for this world-renowned event—and it includes entry into the Festival of the Arts, which has just finished a $10.5 million renovation to its facilities. Not only are you saturated in beauty, art and community, but you will be inspired by the invention and beauty that mankind is capable of producing. And you’ll be able to take a grand tour of art history around the globe without having to leave your seat.

photos courtesy of Festival of the Arts

The Grand Tour
Pageant of the Masters
part of The Festival of the Arts
Irvine Bowl
650 Laguna Canyon Road in Laguna Beach
July 7 through August 31, 2017
staged nightly at 8:30
for tickets, call 800.487.3378 or visit Pageant

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