Orange County Theater Review: PAGEANT OF THE MASTERS: ONLY MAKE BELIEVE (Irvine Bowl in Laguna Beach)

by Tony Frankel on August 7, 2011

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional

Post image for Orange County Theater Review:  PAGEANT OF THE MASTERS: ONLY MAKE BELIEVE (Irvine Bowl in Laguna Beach)

THE FANTASY FIZZLES

Since 1933, Pageant of the Masters has been a Southern California must-see for tourists and locals alike. The professionalism with which they stage tableaux vivants (living pictures) is unsurpassed – a remarkable achievement given that 500 volunteers are necessary to create their incredible productions. Supported by a 35-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.

Pageant of the Masters “Only Make Believe” - Irvine Bowl in Laguna BeachTo a newcomer, the latest offering entitled Only Make Believe will no doubt have an enchanting quality, but to those already inured to the magical goings on, this year is, sadly, a lackluster affair. While last year’s Eat Drink and Be Merry had a poignancy that matched the exquisite choices of art, this year not only had a folksy, laid-back approach, but a majority of the works utilized only one or two figures. Add to that an overuse of illustration art in the first act, and it makes sense that my companions were lamenting that they were not offered more opportunities to see how the pieces are created.

Indeed, a glimpse of the artistry behind the scenes would have been a splendid addition to this evening of Only Make Believe because the Pageant was out to celebrate the art of the impossible and the improbable. Dragons, Peter Pan, and Alice certainly fit the theme, but we longed to see everything that goes into the manufacturing of these stage pictures: make up, costumes, actors moving into place, etc. There were so many figures in each tableau last year that scanning each model kept our eyes busy; this year, it took less time to inspect the pictures: thus, we were left with a gentle ennui that had us yearning to see the art of making the Pageant’s art.

Pageant of the Masters “Only Make Believe” - Irvine Bowl in Laguna BeachThis program also celebrates the art of storytelling by presenting works from classic books and plays, such as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Arabian Nights,” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Esteemed actor Richard Doyle (seen in both The Weir and Midsummer at South Coast Rep) unfortunately opted for a homespun and lighthearted quality to his narration that lent a sleepy bedtime-story quality to the proceedings. Retired narrator Skip Conover, with his classy and commanding manner, would have left a much more resounding impact reciting the extraordinary work of writer Dan Duling (although it must be said that some of this year’s stories lacked excitement as well).

Under the sturdy direction of John Elg, the magnificent orchestra played mostly original music, each piece having been magically orchestrated. However, the majority of the music seemed better suited for cinematic background: it was twinkling and ethereal, sometimes gorgeous, but lacked lush and mysterious melodies. The six composers and/or orchestrators are Bill Liston, Kim Scharnberg, Alan Steinberger, Victor Vanacore and the husband-and-wife team of Starr Parodi and Jeff Eden Fair.

Pageant of the Masters “Only Make Believe” - Irvine Bowl in Laguna BeachThe night may have been staid overall, but it is impossible for The Pageant to not have extraordinary ingredients: The most amazing and impressive work of the night was by scenic artists David Rymar, David Cooke, Sharon Lamberg, Scott Methvin and Matthew Roberts – their recreations are a must-see for any student of art; Costume Director Mary LaVenture serves up a boggling display of alarming accuracy (especially powerful was Frank R. Paul’s futuristic space suit from the cover of Amazing Stories); and it is thanks to director/designer Diane Challis Davy that we were treated to an attack by three gigantic dragons just before intermission.

Three highlights were “Lalique’s Nymphs and Bats Brooch,” simply for the uncanny ability to life-size the work of the French jeweler; Alphonse Mucha’s seven Art Nouveau “Sarah Bernhardt Posters,” which were displayed above the proscenium (although the nets in front of the art is rather distracting); and, above all, the series of tableaux taken from Long Beach artist Sandow Birk’s ambitious satire, “In Spring and Thunder” – paintings which were conceived as artifacts from an imaginary war between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Pageant of the Masters “Only Make Believe” - Irvine Bowl in Laguna BeachIt is the latter which sheds light on one of the most impressive benefits of attending The Pageant: we are often introduced to artists who deserve to be in the spotlight among the masters. Even though Only Make Believe was a tepid affair, the Festival still inspires us to believe in and support the mandatory need for appreciation, study and performance of the arts.

tonyfrankel @ stageandcinema.com

photos by Festival of Arts/Rick Lang

Pageant of the Masters “Only Make Believe”
scheduled to end on August 31
for tickets, visit http://www.PageantTickets.com or call 949.497.6582

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