For more than eight decades, Laguna Beach's Pageant of the Masters has brought to life for its audiences artistic masterpieces normally only seen in a museum.

This year's show will include several pieces that can't be experienced anywhere else.

“The Art Detective,” this year's theme, shares the stories, histories and mysteries behind some of the most infamous art thefts in the world.

“So much has been in the news in the past few years about missing, stolen and found art — and they are all great stories,” said pageant director Diane Challis Davy. “And who doesn't love a mystery? This show gets the curiosity moving and people will be captivated by the art and the stories each tells.”

Challis Davy chose the theme and picked the art for the 90-minute, outdoor stage show of “living pictures.”

For such a show, mirror accuracy is a must. More than 1,300 volunteers, a pageant record, auditioned for a chance to be made up, costumed and remain statue-still in such works as Manet's “Olympia,” Rembrandt's “The Night Watch” and Botticelli's “Primavera.”

Less than half were chosen to be cast members or behind-the-scenes helpers. Thee are two full performance casts.

About 20 paintings and sculptures will be re-created and woven into a cohesive story written by Challis Davy and veteran scriptwriter Dan Duling, set to an original score performed by a professional orchestra.

“The history of art is filled with whodunits, unsolved mysteries and tales of discoveries that changed the way we look at the world,” Duling said. “When I'm constructing a story, I'm always thinking about the narration. It's the narration that brings the focus to the story behind the artwork and the audience into the conversation. You can see a piece of artwork you may have seen before, but after hearing its story, you may look at it from a totally different perspective.”

Duling believes it's the text that makes the art accessible to everyone.

“It brings in a human component,” he said. “This show has a living quality. It tells of famous art heists and artists you'll have never heard of before — and now will likely never forget. What a thrill.”

Giving voice to Duling and Challis Davy's words is Richard Doyle, the show's narrator. Doyle is one of the founding artists of South Coast Repertory, a 50-year-old professional theater company in Costa Mesa, and has a wonderfully smooth and melodious voice.

“The narrator gives the paintings context,” Doyle said. “So you're not just walking through a museum merely looking at paintings, you are captivated by the stories of the art and the artist. The stories we're telling have a lot to do with really looking at art. The stories we're telling are emotional, gripping, funny. Everything passes away, but art lasts forever.”

Challis Davy, in her 19 years as pageant director, never ceases to be amazed at what's created by mostly volunteers.

“The live narration, intricate sets, sophisticated lighting, expert staff and hundreds of dedicated volunteers — it's magic every single year,” she said. “This is our piece of California Gold — stealing a line from the late, great Huell Howser. Nowhere else in the world can a unique show such as this be seen.”