Monday, October 22, 2012

'Urinetown: The Musical' lets loose at Valencia

     ORLANDO — “Urinetown: The Musical” performed by Valencia College Theater brings entertaining humor from a phenomenal cast and refined musical numbers that deliver note for note.
     “It’s been a great cast from the first day, they are incredibly talented and very strong singers,” said Julia Gagne, director and producer of "Urinetown."
     "Urinetown" centers on a city plagued by 20 years of drought where water has become worth its weight in gold. A greedy CEO named Caldwell B. Cladwell played by Brett P. Carson, was given free reign to help fight this issue and did so by imposing strict laws on the people forcing them to pay to use the restrooms.
     The plays wild scenario of extreme conservation and the ill effects from them are wonderfully conveyed with sarcastic humor by members of the cast including the narrator Officer Lockstock played by Tyler Conrady. Several times the dialogue even makes fun of the musical itself, such as saying nothing can kill a musical like a bad title.
     Just as you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you shouldn’t judge “Urinetown: The Musical” by its name. This play is packed with great moments of humor, catchy music and a real world message that doesn’t get too preachy.
     Because of the chaos and betrays placed upon the poor people there is an eventual revolt against the powerful, led by the charismatic Bobby Strong played by Antonio Morillo.
     “I really enjoy the energy that the cast brings, I definitely could not do this without their support, and I really appreciate the efforts they put into the show,” said Morillo. 

     One of the pivotal scenes of this production is a musical number “Run Freedom Run” where the revolution finds its battle cry and Morillo and his fellow cast members deliver a rousing performance that left many in the audience openly thrilled.
     Each of the plays several song and dance numbers drew a large round of applause from the audience on opening night. The vocal performances were perfectly accompanied by the five piece in-house orchestra led by musical director Tim Hanes.
     Another standout performance from this production was a heartfelt duet between Bobby Strong and Little Sally played by Dorothy Christopher. “Tell Her I Love Her” catches the audience off guard as it makes sense of tragic loss in a meaningful way, with a somber fond farewell.
     “She got really caught up with the romance of the rebellion, and with the revolutionary movement, she wanted to change the world like everyone else,” said Christopher.
     This Tony Award-winning musical that first premiered in late 2001 is fresh and funny, and doesn’t become unbelievable because it brilliantly pokes fun at itself. The audience is allowed to let their guard down and be entertained without worrying about some deep complicated message.
     “What was most surprising to me is the level of energy, and no one was less important than someone else,” said audience member, Conny Lostus. “Everyone was needed to move the story along and they all had enthusiasm and believed in what they were doing.”
     There are only four more chances to see this rendition of “Urinetown: The Musical” at Valencia’s East Campus Performing Arts Center from Oct. 25 – 28. More information can be found at

By James Tutten

(All Photos by James Tutten)

"The Poor" forum together to fight against the rich corporation in "Urinetown: The Musical."

Little Sally played by Dorothy Christopher.

A kiss between Bobby Strong and Hope Cladwell.

The greedy Mr. Cladwell (in black) surrounded by his UGC staff celebrate their control over the poor.

'Urinetown' Actress Spotlight: Melina Countryman

     ORLANDO — Melina Countryman makes her Valencia acting debut in “Urinetown: The Musical” as Hope Cladwell. She’s a young and ambitious actress with big dreams and a big on-stage personality.

     “My dream job is to perform on Broadway, that’s what I really want to do,” said Countryman.

     Her current role has her portraying Hope, a young girl with a heart of gold just trying to find her place in the world. Along the way she makes choices and sacrifices as she follows her heart in hopes that everything will work out for the best.

     It wasn’t until Countryman started acting in high school five years ago that she felt she truly found something in life to be passionate about. Her first acting role was in William Shakespeare's “Hamlet” where she portrayed several roles that tested her versatility.

     When asked about her biggest challenges as an actress Countryman said, “Just trying to make it as realistic as possible, but not trying to force myself to act and not be believable.”

     She gives a lot of credit to her current director Julia Gagne, whose guidance has helped her to refine her acting ability with constructive feedback.

     Countryman’s other roles prior to Valencia include Wendla in “Spring Awakening,” Suraiya in “Samsara” and Maria in “West Side Story.”

     When she isn’t honing her craft and studying for school she helps out her parents business Car Concierge, doing secretarial work.

     “At first I got a little overwhelmed because we have rehearsals everyday, but now I feel good because everything has come together so well,” said Countryman.

     “Urinetown” is a large musical production that the cast and crew pulled together in two months. Countryman feels grateful to be part of this production and feels inspired by all the work that has gone into it.

     “Everything about this show is great. It’s funny, it's serious, it really has everything. It’s also good fun for all ages and everyone in the family,” said Countryman.

     Catch Countryman and her castmates in “Urinetown: The Musical” now playing at the Performing Arts Center at Valencia’s East Campus. The remaining four performances are Oct. 25 – 28. Ticket prices at the box office are $15 for general admission and $12 for students.

     More information on this show and other fine arts programs at Valencia can be found at

By James Tutten

(All photos by James Tutten)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Coldplay lights up Tampa on 'Mylo Xyloto' tour

     TAMPA — Coldplay earns a worldwide appeal by connection with their listeners around a feel good philosophy entwined with talented song-writing. Their current album and tour “Mylo Xyloto” came to the Tampa Bay Times Forum Thursday, June 28. and literally lit up the arena with the help of their adoring fans.

     Strong anticipation built up leading to a roaring applause when the band came out onto the elaborately designed stage. The excitement continued to build during the opening intro “Mylo Xyloto” as the audience cheered even louder when they all began to light up due to a recently acquired accessory.

     Concert-goers were given “Xylobands” when they enter and these radio-controlled wristbands light up as they flash along with key moments of the performance. This creates a masterful array of multicolored lights that perfectly matches the wild neon-graffiti style featured from their current album and on stage.

     Driving rhythms from drummer Will Champion with guitarist Jonny Buckland kicked stated the performance during “Hurts Like Heaven.” An energetic presences shined from frontman Chris Martin as his soaring vocals resonated throughout the large arena.

     Coldplay is sublimely soulful, you can hear it through their music and especially see it during their live performances. After 16 years together the group has also matured in their overall talent and songwriting ability.

     "I'm never gonna stop loving them, I'll be 80 and still putting their records on,” said concert-goer Amber Gross.

     This extravagant performance is equally matched by a exorbitant stage design featuring multiple levels, allowing the band to interact with all sides of the audience. A long raised catwalk going through the central audience was showered with a sea of confetti multiple times during the song “In My Place” as Martin and Buckland ran out into the middle of delighted fans.

     The joyous reactions grew as the show continued on with Coldplay's passionate fans hanging on to every rocking note. In addition, Martin sincerely thank the audience between certain songs with a positive attitude that exhibited class.

     "They know how to write songs that connect with our feelings, that is why I love them,” said Corali Bonnet. She traveled from Puerto Rico to see this show in Tampa and would love to see the band bring their next tour to her island home.

     Along with selling over 55 million records Coldplay has received critical acclaim and many awards including seven Grammy Awards and seven Brit Awards. Their newest album went straight to number one around the world and concerts continue to sell out, especially in Europe with some venues running out of ticket seconds after they are made available.

     Coldplay's music does exactly what all music should do, connect emotionally with the listener. If it's not your cup of tea don't try to debate its value with their faithful followers. You will quickly find out you are attacking a cherished part of the soundtrack to their lives.

By James Tutten

(Published: July, 4. 2012 issue of "Valencia Voice" on page 8.)

(All photos by James Tutten)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Islamic society builds bridges of understanding

     ORLANDO — Valencia’s Peace and Justice Initiative helped organize an educational outreach event in partnership with the Islamic Society of Central Florida (ISCF) on Friday.

     The violent protests that erupted last month as the result of an online film that negatively depicted the Islamic Prophet Muhammad prompted the outreach. The purpose of the event was to open lines of communication and dispel myths that lead to misunderstandings and violence.

     “So, as American Muslims, we felt that the response here, instead of reacting negatively to the insulting movie that we should do an educational campaign to reach out to our neighbors in the community,” said ISCF president Imam Muhammad Musri.

     Following last month’s embassy attack, the Islamic Society of Central Florida issued a statement on Sept. 12 condemning the criminal attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. They also offered prayers and condolences to the families and loved ones of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and the three staff members who lost their lives.

     The ISCF rose from humble beginnings, when a small group of families held prayer services in a small trailer on Goldenrod Road back in the early 1970s. The group eventually purchased property on the street and began to build what would become the first official mosque in Central Florida.

     Bassem Chaaban, the ISCF director of operations, gave a guided tour of the mosque. During a short question and answer segment, Chaaban explained when and why they pray and the reasoning behind their religious beliefs.

     “We believe education is the greatest weapon to eradicate extremism, radicalization, racism and discrimination,” said Chaaban.

     The group does community outreach on a regular basis via open house events. Friday night offered a new event that focused on Valencia students and faculty. The night hinged on a presentation and the sharing of a free dinner of Middle Eastern cuisine.

     “Peace and Justice is trying to bring people together to focus on our commonalities and not our differences,” said Yasmeen Qadri, professor of education and social sciences at Valencia’s East Campus.

     A highlight of the event was the number of people in attendance; hundreds came out to participate. It wouldn’t have been possible if not for the interest and initial outreach of Valencia professor of humanities, Rachel Allen.

     “This is really for everybody, clearly it’s about educating our students, but I think it’s about educating all of us,” said Allen. “Because we are a community college it’s important that we all have an understanding of our neighbors in the community.”

     Many in attendance openly stated that they felt inspired after receiving information about the religious beliefs of Muslims. This event wasn’t about recruitment; its primary goal was education and working towards peace through greater understanding.

     For more information on the Islamic Society of Central Florida and its upcoming events, visit their website at

By James Tutten

(All photos by James Tutten)

ISCF president Imam Muhammad Musri speaks at the opening of this outreach event.

Those in attendance were treated to Middle Eastern cuisine as part of cultural exposure.

Artwork within the mosque depicting the Masjid-e-nabawi in the city of Madina.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

'Phantasmagoria III' Spotlight: Samantha O'Hare

     ORLANDO — Samantha O’Hare is one of “Phantasmagoria III”’s shining stars working with Orlando’s own Empty Spaces Theatre Company. Like many young college students, she is balancing her responsibilities to try to define the life she wants for herself.

     “I’m still figuring it out. It’s hard to navigate sometimes, my levels of interest are huge for a lot of different things,” said O’Hare.

     The acting bug first bit her at the age of 15 with a role in “The Odd Couple” while attending Apopka Senior High School. She decided early on to focus on theater instead of television and film because it deals with many of the fundamentals of acting that she considers vital to a well-rounded education.

     She credits her education at Valencia College under the guidance of theater professor Kathleen Lindsey-Moulds for helping her fix some of the personal problems she had faced along the way.

     “For me it’s the technical things, it’s the small things. My speech and my speed are probably the most difficult,” said O’Hare on her biggest challenges as an actress.

     As she worked to fine-tune her acting she learned that she tended to speak too fast and not open her mouth wide enough to make certain sounds loud enough. These are common mistakes with young actors and often need to be refined as they mature professionally.

     Valencia theater professor John DiDonna has worked with O’Hare for nearly eight years on several productions and feels strongly about how she has progressed over that time.

     “Her energy, her focus, her talent, her ambition and her perfection,” said DiDonna on what inspires him about O’Hare as an actress.

     O’Hare credits her love of reading for shaping her desire to become an actress. Her fascination with literature helped O’Hare escape into a world of her own when she was younger.

     Part-time jobs have also been a diverse experience for O’Hare. She has driven an ice cream truck, been a nanny, delivered food and even worked as a bank teller. Her favorite job was working with the ice cream and her worst job was working in the bank because of the stress levels that came with the job.

     “Right now I’m focusing on substitute teaching and I just became a tutor,” said O’Hare. She teaches anything and everything for middle school aged students including English, math, statistics and biology.

     Her family has had mixed reactions to her acting, from initial excitement to later doubting her ability to stay afloat financially in the risky world of theater.

     Her family is currently more supportive of her acting aspirations and often come out to performances like “Phantasmagoria” to give her encouragement.

     Fellow cast members are also inspirations for O’Hare. They form a support system whose honest guidance has helped her become successful.

     “I just think it’s important that people take an interest in the work we do as a whole more than one actor. You really have to for theater, there’s no celebrity culture around this at all,” said O’Hare.

     For select days during the rest of this month you can catch O’Hare and fellow Empty Spaces Theatre performers in “Phantasmagoria III” at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center in Orlando.

By James Tutten

(Published: Oct. 17, 2012 issue of "Valencia Voice" on page 10.)

(All photos by James Tutten)

Monday, October 15, 2012

'Phantasmagoria III' awakes with devilish delights

ORLANDO — “Phantasmagoria III” is a theatrical world of its own design, unique in theme and boundlessly creative as a manifestation of fantasy-horror in a bizarre assemblage.

“It feels good to be back after three years running, to step back into the same world and recreate it again,” said writer, creator and director John DiDonna.

The play focuses on a traveling troupe of twisted centuries-old storytellers. They present wildly imaginative stories intended to delight and terrify any who dare bear witness. Lines from these tales are read between alternating storytellers and other cast members. The full cast of 18 players chant a few key moments in unison to add emphasis.

Cast members stay in motion throughout the performance, often catching audience members off guard. As you watch the action in front, occasionally you’ll hear an ominous whisper from behind you.

As eyes adjust to the darkness that engulfs the rotunda, the low light created an ambiance intended to transport the minds of the audience. The unique characters and detailed Victorian steampunk-themed costumes will delight lovers of fantasy.

Three sets of scaffolding were erected within the space, allowing cast members to climb to the ceiling and disappear into the darkness.

“I feel like my track within this show is some sort of insane carousel, and you have to hit it immediately and let yourself get taken away,” said Joshua Geoghagan, who played a reluctant storyteller named Leon. He is new to this year’s cast.

Another notable addition to this year’s production is a hanging screen which contains an overhead atmospheric projection. Several months of work went into timing the array of images and video used to highlight the action below.

The pace of each of the seven stories feels quite brisk and is a delightful treat to those familiar with the tales. The classic Edgar Allan Poe story “The Tell-Tale Heart” was most easily recognized and the actors brilliantly captured Poe’s madness with their rendition.

“‘Tell-Tale Heart’ stood out for me, classic Poe,” said audience member Chris Wilcox. “Definitely frightening and kept up with the concept of Halloween, very dark elements throughout and you couldn’t ask for a better show this time of year,” said Wilcox.

Between stories, dancers acted as an enchanting transition. Each dance number was portrayed in varied styles.

And then there were the puppets.

These go beyond an average person’s preconceived understanding of puppetry. Several of them were brilliantly used to create moments of sheer terror. Of all puppets used during the production, the most frightening was saved for last.

“I think the message is much more clear this year. There has always been a message between us in the troupe, but it’s never been as clearly communicated to the audience,” said actress Cameron Gagne, who played the enchanting Isabella.

Tickets are $15-$20 at the door and can be reserved by calling 407-328-9005. More information about this show and other updates can be found on the group’s Facebook page at

By James Tutten

(Published: Oct. 17, 2012 issue of "Valencia Voice" on page 10.)
(All photos by James Tutten)

Chris Prueitt, who play Cyril the ringmaster of this wild troupe.

Serafina Schiano performs a seductive belly dance.

Newcomer  Joshua Geoghagan performs during "The Tell-Tale Heart."

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Space Shuttle Atlantis prepares for final mission

     CAPE CANAVERAL Quietly stationed like a sleeping giant in the Orbiter Processing Facility-2 is the last piece of NASA’s historic shuttle program. The Space Shuttle Atlantis lies waiting to reach its final resting place.

     “Young people and the people in school, that’s the future,” said David Bakehorn, a shuttle systems technician who worked for over 27 years on the shuttle program.

     “If you folks in college and even the younger kids aren’t enthused and involved in it, then we don’t have a future.”

     The shuttle program started with its first launch on April 12, 1981. Since then its assisted in taking astronauts into orbit, launching and repairing satellites and helping to construct the largest man-made structure in space: the International Space Station.

 (Click above to watch video)

     Atlantis played a major role in all of this and more over the course of its 26-year career, spending over 293 days in space across 33 different missions for NASA.

     Only five space shuttles were built including both the Columbia and Challenger, along with the now retired Discovery, Endeavor and Atlantis.

     Like so many American artifacts, the retired shuttles have been sent off for display around the nation. Discovery will be on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Endeavor will be displayed at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.

     Atlantis’ body of approximately 22,237 silica block tiles of varying shapes and sizes look as if they have just returned from a mission. Subtle scratches and small imperfections round out the outer shell.

     Inside Atlantis, the crew compartment and flight control deck are surprisingly cramped considering the fact that six to eight persons shared the area in flight. In full operation mode every nook and cranny was used to full advantage for work and recreation during long space missions.

     The cockpit is filled with an impressive array of switches, buttons and screens that resemble present-day commercial aircraft. This craft’s control system is far richer and more complex in function due to the needs of spaceflight and extended life support systems.

     “Taking care of these vehicles up until the very end and delivering them to their final homes and knowing that we were part of that is very special,” said Stephanie Stilson, who works as NASA’s flow director for the transition and retirement of the orbiters.

     The foundational work laid by the shuttle program now acts as the blueprint for the future of NASA and American space exploration. Private companies such as SpaceX, Boeing and Lockheed Martin are currently building the next generation of spacecraft intent on delving deeper into our solar system than ever before.

     Lessons learned from the shuttle program's 30-year legacy are currently defining the next great leaps in space travel and scientific discovery.

     “Orion is using the thermal tiles, and so is the Boeing X-37 ‘little shuttle’ and the Sierra Nevada, so this technology is definitely carrying over to the next generation,” said Greg Grantham, a NASA thermal protection specialist.

     Atlantis is currently being prepared for public display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex with a targeted grand opening in July 2013.

By James Tutten

(Published: Oct. 10, 2012 issue of "Valencia Voice" on page 4.)

(Photos and video by James Tutten)

Side view of Atlantis showing the United States flag and NASA logo.

Front view of the Space Shuttle Atlantis presenting fuselage of the vehicle.

Tail view of Atlantis showing the main engines.

A close-up look at the slightly worn heat shielding tiles used to protect the orbiter upon its reentry from outer space.

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