Sunday, April 28, 2013

Rush reigns down a heavenly sound in Orlando

ORLANDO — Tremendously talented power-rock trio Rush, put on a clinic of musical mastery, as they brought their “Clockwork Angels Tour” to the Amway Center in Orlando on Sunday, April 28, just 10 days after they were officially inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

This latest tour in support of the 20th album “Clockwork Angels,” showcased many of their new recordings like “Halo Effect,” “The Garden,” and “Caravan.” While their musical feel still has a strong progressive-rock theme, overall the group’s current sound harkens back to their heavier rock and roll roots that originally helped them breakout back in the late 1970s. 

Opening the show with the classic number “Subdivisions,” it was clear from the start that this was the same Rush that fans young and old have grown to love and adore. 

Among all the visual extras and pyrotechnics seen on tour, one undeniable fact is made abundantly clear throughout this concert; the standout instrumental skill displayed by each member of Rush is their paramount trait. 

Lead singer and bassist, Geddy Lee, can not only keep perfect time with his driving bass rhythms and impressive solo features, but his unique high tenor vocal stylings maintain a masterful pitch and control that clearly define the overall sound of Rush. 

When listing to any Rush song it doesn't take long to notice the brilliant composition and superior music coming from the Gibson Les Paul wielding guitarist Alex Lifeson. He shined bright during the fast-paced riffs featured in songs like “Analog Kid,” and iconic guitar solos every time he was featured throughout the night. 

It’s hard to fully describe the awe inspiring talent seen with Neil Peart on the drum set. He is highly regarded by fans, musicians and fellow percussionists as one of the greatest drummers of all time. Peart’s speed, concentration, and rhythmic creativity are astounding and leave audience members in a state of wild cheering after each of his long solos. An above head view of the drummer was displayed on a large monitor during his solos that helped to showcase this Leonardo da Vinci of the drums and his work of art wraparound drum kit. 

“I’m always impressed when I see them live, they can’t put on a better show,” said Kenny Davico, who has seen Rush perform live seven times before. “Their new music has the featured storyline like a concept piece, but at the same time has the same hard-rock feel as “Vapor Trails” and “Snakes and Arrows.” 

Rush performed 25 songs as part of this concert including two encore songs “Tom Sawyer” and “2112,” but the one song that stood out above the rest in crowd reaction was their classic “The Spirit of Radio.” The invisible airways inside the Amway Center truly crackled with life, as singing fans cheered and celebrated this classic song that help to define the band and cement their success.

Another notable occurrence in the crowd was the large number of young fans in attendance for a band that has been around since the late 1960s. 

“It’s everything a ‘Rush dad’ ever dreams of, I was raised on Rush so my son should be too,” said Aaron Glassman, 41, who brought his 10-year-old son Gabriel to this show in Orlando and Rush’s previous show in Fort Lauderdale. 

Inspired by many facets of philosophical concepts and random science fiction fun, Rush is an artistic group that is hard to simply define. It can easily be said that their sound isn't afraid to go against the grain and provides a voice for the individual looking to separate themselves from the masses, not in a form of isolation, but rather a refined definition of true independence and self-expression. 

More information on upcoming “Clockwork Angles” tour dates can be found on their website at 

By James Tutten

photos by James Tutten)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Dental program's free service helps local children

     ORLANDO — Helping to “Give Kids A Smile” and improve their oral health at no cost is a service provided by dental hygiene students from Valencia College and Orlando Vo-Tech.

     “The parents are always just very grateful for their child getting their teeth sealed to prevent decay,” said professor Pamela Sandy, Dental Hygiene program chair at Valencia College since 2005. “There are some sad stories with small children around three years old having baby teeth that are all decayed and it can set them up from problems in the future if gone untreated.”

     “Give Kids A Smile” is focused around helping children in the Central Florida community with free dental cleanings and tooth sealants while creating a positive environment designed to help encourage future dental visits. This event has been ongoing for the past two years at the Allied Health Services (AHS) building on Valencia’s West Campus, and is held four times a year with two clinics during the fall and spring semester.

     Our mouths can be an early warning system for the rest of your body and problems there can lead to systemic disease elsewhere. It has been well documented that diseases as well as bacteria that we find in the oral environment can spread to other parts of the body, and it can lead to heart disease, premature birth in women that are pregnant, among other health problems.

     One of the supervisors for this event was Denise Murphy, who has worked in this field for 35 years and is a certified dental assistant, nationally certified in dental practice management, and preventative dental and restorative dental assisting.

     “Today’s service that we’re providing for the community gives the dental assisting students from Orlando Vo-Tech the opportunity to join the dental hygiene students from Valencia College in a community service of sealants, fluoride, and oral hygiene instruction," said Murphy. “So it reinforces the learning experience that our students have, as well as partnering with the hygiene students to see how they deliver care, also the opportunity to work in a clinic environment and give back to the community by providing a wonderful service.”

     Students from Valencia and Orlando Vo-Tech alternated between teeth cleaning and applying sealants to children at this event that were old enough to get them. They also worked to establish a personal connection with their young patients to make them feel at ease with getting their teeth treated.

     “It’s been an amazing experience, just being able to work with the kids and make a difference in the community,” said Valencia dental hygiene student Meg Dennen.

     Word about this event is spread through fliers sent out to the head of the Orange, Seminole, and Osceola Counties public school system, and local food banks like Second Harvest and the Central Florida Compassion Center. At the schools they typically target school nurses and teachers to distribute the information to the students and parents. All this work is 100 percent free and done by around 50 volunteers.

     Spring Meeks, a parent who brought her four-year-old son Jacob Meeks into the clinic said “I see the staff and students all working together to get our children’s teeth clean, that’s just wonderful.”

By James Tutten

(All photos by James Tutten)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Julia Gagne departs Valencia College after 30 years

     ORLANDO — Julia Gagne recently reflected on all the changes she has seen as her theatrical work comes to an end after 30 years at Valencia College.

     “This has been a fantastic job, I love this job,” said Gagne. “Thirty years in one place, not many people get to say that.” With her retirement set to begin at the end of April, she now looks forward to directing in other places and trying new things as she enjoys her semi-retirement.

     Gagne openly admits that she will miss working at Valencia and it is hard for her to let go of the reins. And also having to come to grips with the idea that things will happen after she is gone and without any input from her.

     The arts and entertainment program has significantly grown over the last 30 years with the numbers of students involved and number of programs offered. Unlike what Valencia now offers; 30 years ago there was no A.A pre-major, no A.S in live entertainment, and no A.S in theatre entertainment technology.

     “Little by little we just kept adding programs,” said Gagne. “The film program, the A.S degree program, which was one of the first of its kind in the country. Now we have huge numbers of students in arts and entertainment and we’ve outgrown our space.”

     She remembers taking people around the Black Box Theatre and Performing Arts Center on Valencia’s East Campus and marveling at the performance spaces the program had to work with. There is now talk about renovation of buildings including an upcoming renovation to the house section of the Performance Arts Center starting in May. Other expansion ideas are looking to increase classroom, lab, and other behind the scenes space to help improve the technical work and training of the future.

     Technical aspects of theater have greatly changed over the last 30 years including moving lights, new sound technology, and of course the advent of video and computer graphic integration with more advanced productions. But the essential forms of storytelling that define theater have always been vital to the success of any live play for thousands of years.

     Gagne currently serves as artistic director and theater department chair for Valencia College along with the plays she personally directs and classes she teaches as a professor. Artistic director duty deals with being responsible for the productions Valencia does either by direction or supervision of another director. As theater chair she keeps the schedule of the adjunct instructors and enlists the help of new instructors if they are needed.

     Replacing Gagne as theater department chair will be John DiDonna, another well-known director and theater professor at Valencia and in the Central Florida community.

     “For the years I’ve been at Valencia she has been my touchstone,” said DiDonna. “She has helped my with situations at Valencia and other schools where I’ve gone to her for advice. This is not a retirement from theater, it is her expanding and doing stuff in a lot of other places and I’m looking forward to working with her outside of the community as well.”

     Gagne was also asked to reflect on the nearly 100 plays she directed at Valencia to note which ones stood out the most for her.

     Beside her love for the musicals, she is also strongly drawn to the darker plays she has worked on in the past.

     “I loved ‘Almost Maine,’ I loved ‘Buried Child,’ ‘The Diviners,’” said Gagne. “I am drawn to dark plays and do them well, so those are most always my favorite.”

     After her work at Valencia comes to an end, Gagne is taking a short break and spending some time at the beach and more time at a local art studio working on pottery classes. She plans to rest a while before returning to direct a production of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” at the Garden Theatre in Winter Garden.

     “There isn’t a show I can think of that I wish I hadn’t done,” said Gagne. “It’s been a really rewarding thing to work with all those students, and I would just tell them it was great and thank you so much, it was fun.”

By James Tutten

(Published: April 17, 2013 issue of "Valencia Voice" on page 5.)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Disagreements lead to departure of chairwoman

     ORLANDO — The final board of trustees meeting at Valencia College for the spring semester also witnessed the bittersweet goodbye from Valencia trustee chairwoman Bertica Cabrera-Morris after seven years on the board.

     “Well as you know the president [Valencia College president Dr. Sanford Shugart] and I had difference of opinion a few weeks ago,” said Morris after the meeting. “Because of that reason somebody, I don’t know yet who, from this college maybe him, lobbied Senator Andy Gardiner to pull my name out of contingency.”

     There were published accounts of public disagreements between Morris and Shugart over the direction of the college’s financial path in recent weeks and tension was starting to become noticeable between the two. Morris insists that she will not contest the decision leading her to departure from the board of trustees and she intends to still work on the issue she considers important by lobbying against them.

     This decision from state lawmakers came the day before this meeting on Tuesday, April 16, and was addressed by Morris at the start of the regularly scheduled board meeting. She raised up in her right hand a copy of the Orlando Sentinel with the article published about her, but made clear that she wanted to focus on the business issues of the college and not on the controversy.

     The meeting then went straight into the issues at hand with the first major topic being the ongoing marketing campaign to Hispanic students.

     “Last year Valencia invented 1.7 percent of its total broadcast TV budget on Spanish language television, 14 percent of its radio budget on Spanish language radio,” said Ulysses Arrigitia, a senior vice president of integrated marketing solutions at Univision, Unimas, and Salsa 98.1 FM. “According to Kantar Media Valencia spent $278,000 on TV ads in 2012 and only $5,000 was invented on broadcast Spanish language television.

     With the rise in the Hispanic population in the Central Florida over recent years there was much discussion on increasing the marketing to Spanish language broadcasts to appeal to the culture to Spanish-speaking students and their parents.

     Valencia College President, Sanford Shugart, replied to Arrigoitia statement with “It’s an interesting time of transition in the media and at the college as well, so thank you for your comments we will take them seriously.”

     Before a final decision is made on the advertising budget another board member, Lewis Oliver, requested further details about the effectiveness of this outreach to Spanish broadcasts because of the inherent lack of exposure to non-Spanish speaking students.

     Other topics discussed at this board meeting included the changes in the overall budget for the college with a notable $9 million drop in construction cost from last year to this year due to the finished expansion of Osceola’s Building 4, West Campus Building 10, and the new Lake Nona Campus. Despite the expansion and new campus added the cost of electrical expense has stayed nearly the same due to energy efficient materials and other power saving measures.

     Several times throughout this board meeting Valencia administrators made a point to thank chairwoman Morris for her service to the college. This was meet by gratitude from the recently ousted board member who replied with a simple “thank you” as she diligently held back from the emotions of saying goodbye.

By James Tutten

(Above photo by James Tutten)

(Published: April 24, 2013 issue of "Valencia Voice" on page 1 and 2.)

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Political history comes to life with 'Frost/Nixon'

ORLANDO More than just live entertainment; the play “Frost/Nixon” breaths new life into one of the biggest political scandals in U.S. history, and gives another side of the story many have never considered.

President Richard Nixon is synonymous with disgrace and defeat, but this play looks into the reason why he fell entwined in his twisted web, and how an unsuspecting Englishman finally got what no one else could.

A confession from Nixon that changed our history and how we look at political power and influence.
“I lived through this, I was just a kid,” said John DiDonna, the plays co-director. “I remember my father watching it on television, so it was like a trip back to my childhood.” DiDonna admitted to becoming emotional watching the great portal of Nixon during the climactic end of the opening night of this production on Friday, April 12.
For anyone not familiar with former President Nixon and the Watergate scandal that brought about his demise from public office, “Frost/Nixon” is wonderful written to explain the scandal. Another benefit is found in its simplicity, focusing more on the people involved and straying away from unnecessary distractions.
Kevin Becker is this play’s other co-director, and help to divided and reunify different segments, seeing that all the layers of this production came together into a unified vision. “The vision at the end is a really nice collaboration, and I think that’s one of the best things about this group,” said Becker.
Hit music from 1977 and cast members in polyester shirts set a flashback in time as the play begins with the hypothetical moments preceding the televised remarks of Nixon as he resigned from the office of president. The play’s narrator, James Reston Jr., performed by John Bateman, then works to establish historical context and an intellectual tone that will follow the drama and comedy that fills this production.
The play then moves to define the complex men who become the driving force of this story; David Frost, played by Timothy Williams, and Richard Nixon, played by Stephan Jones.
“I share a lot in common with Frost,” said Timothy Williams. “He just enjoys being on stage and he enjoys being in front of the camera, and I took a lot of inspiration from those things that I share with him." John DiDonna approached Williams around two years ago about playing Frost, and this was his first time performing this role in his 30 years of acting experience.
“It’s interesting because he is an iconic figure who is often lampooned, so you gotta be careful about that,” said Stephan Jones talking about his portrayal of Nixon. “We have to be careful about how we respect the integrity of the man and who he was.”
Williams’ portrayal of Frost is full of energy and life, despite having Frost’s world crumble around him due to the huge financial and professional risks he took filming this landmark interview. Jones’ portrayal is also fantastic, with every word and movement clearly defined to create as realistic a representation of Nixon as possible.
Both men share a personal struggle to reclaim the professional heights they once knew and work against one another throughout the interview for that purpose. In the end only one of them will succeed, the other will be left to the wilderness.
This 90-minute play runs through the historical gambit with ease all while keeping the audience’s attention with brilliant acting and a surprising amount of comedy. All this culminates into a political showdown that will make or break the men at its forefront.

“Frost/Nixon” will be performed on select days until Sunday, April 28, at the Mandell Theater in the John and Rita Lowndes Shakespeare Center in Loch Haven Park. Shows will begin starting at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays along with Sunday matinee performances starting at 2 p.m. There will also be a special industry night performance on Monday, April 22 at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $20 for general admission and $15 for students and seniors with cash only at the door, and group rates are available for 10 or more tickets purchases. For more information on credit card pre-orders visit and reservations can be made by calling 407.328.900.

By James Tutten

(All photos courtesy of Kristen Wheeler / khphotographics)


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Central Florida debut of 'Frost/Nixon' gets political

ORLANDO — Peter Morgan’s play “Frost/Nixon” will bring drama, comedy, and a touch of sadness, with its upcoming Central Florida premiere at the John and Rita Lowndes Shakespeare Center in Loch Haven Park starting on Friday, April 12.

When asked about the challenges this play presents director, John DiDonna, said “..finding the balance between historical truth and theatrical creation.”

This play is primarily centered on the historic meetings between British talk show host David Frost and former U.S. President Richard Nixon. Segments of the play are taken straight from the groundbreaking interviews addressing the infamous Watergate political scandal, that drew a record setting 45 million television viewers for a political interview back in 1977.
Featured in the starring roles of this production are two seasoned and highly skilled actors, Tim Williams as David Frost, and Stephan Jones as Richard Nixon.

“It was interesting discoveries on who he is as a human being,” said Jones, when asked about his work on portraying the former president. “So that I’m able to show who he is and where he came from, despite his foibles and his fallacies.”
Despite the serious nature of the back story on this play there is also a surprising amount of humor featured throughout. The talented actors and crew involved with this production have formed a strong bound over the short time they have spent together and are well on their way to bringing home this challenging showcase.

Another standout performance featured in this play is that of the narrator James Reston Jr. played by John Bateman, who acts to connect the audience with the people involved and inevitably decodes a critical piece of the Watergate puzzle.
“He [Reston] believes in a lot of strong held democratic traditions,”said Bateman. “He believes in a certain freedom and in a way he has never compromised that.” 

Performances will be going on for three weeks on select days starting on Friday, April 12 through Sunday, April 28 at the Mandell Theater in the Orlando Shakespeare Center. Shows will be performed starting at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays with Sunday matinee performances starting at 2 p.m. There will also be a special industry night performance on Monday April 22 at 8 p.m.  

Tickets are $20 for general admission and $15 for students and seniors with cash only at the door, and group rates are available for 10 or more tickets purchases. For more information on credit card pre-orders visit and reservations can be made by calling 407.328.900.

By James Tutten

(Photos by James Tutten)

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