Monday, October 21, 2013

Actress spotlight on Nicole Visco from 'Chicago'

     Nicole Visco has taken her love and passion for musical theatre, and created a charismatic portrayal of Roxie Hart from “Chicago,” her first lead role after nearly 20 plays to her acting credit.

     “I’m just kind of winging it with her,” said Visco talking about her approach to her newest role. “I ask, what do I think Roxie would do, and if I found myself in Roxie’s shoes, what would I do?”

     Roxie Hart is one of the most notable characters from “Chicago,” which is one of the most popular musicals of all time. She kills her lover in a fit of rage and tries to get her husband to take the blame, only to end up fighting for her life in a 1920s prison surrounded by other ferocious females.

     Visco has crafted her take on Hart by sampling from the Oscar-winning film adaptation and her recent exposure to the Broadway version of “Chicago” in New York. She took the manipulative seduction of Hart and combined it with traits that give off a more ditzy attitude with exaggerated quirkiness.

     This works perfectly with her character; who wins over the audience with a simple laugh or fuddled movement, and helps to lessen the fact that during this musical, Hart does her fair share of deceit and underhanded plotting.

     Originally from Virginia, Visco’s parents moved to Florida when she was 8-years-old. She calls Florida home, but most of her family lives in New York, so she visits there often and considers New York to be her second home. It was at a talent show as a young child that Visco sang her heart out for the song “Tomorrow” from the musical “Annie,” and this became a solid indicator to her parents that she was going to grow up into a theatre kid.

     This love for music has carried-over wonderfully with Visco as her singing during this musical is commanding and pitch-perfect. Several times throughout the production, Vicso has the time to shine and doesn’t disappoint, as seen by the tremendous reaction by the audience members in attendance on opening night.

     Praise of Visco’s performance is also strongly given from the play’s director John DiDonna who said, “I’ve loved her energy from day one. This is my first time working with her and hopefully it’s not my last.”

     She won over the director throughout the addition process and also made some new friends along the way. Originally in competition with fellow actress Rachele Rees over another lead role in this musical the character, Velma Kelly, the two actresses learned to work together and eventually became good friends.

     “The chemistry between us is amazing, because we were rivals in the beginning when we were fighting for this role, and we came together as friends in the end,” said Rees. “It’s been a life journey for us, and it’s been amazing to work with her.”

     Another lead actor in this production, Johnmichael McDonald, who plays the charismatic lawyer Billy Flynn, had nothing but words of praise when asked about his time working with Visco.

     “Working with Nicole is a blast,” said McDonald. “She’s funny, she’s hilarious, she’s really nothing like Roxie which makes her such an amazing actress.”

     When Visco isn’t acting or taking classes at the University of Central Florida to earn her BFA Acting degree, she also works for a princess party company where she portrays Ariel from “The Little Mermaid” for young children’s birthday parties. It wouldn’t be considered a normal job by most, but normal jobs, like her time working at Target in high school, drove her crazy because she has a strong urge to be creative and do something she considers meaningful.

     Whether Visco finds herself in the future doing more work in plays at UCF or film projects, she will undoubtedly continue to bring her shining personality and strong work ethic to excel in whatever her heart desires.

By James Tutten

(All photos by James Tutten)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Talented stars electrify with 'Chicago' at Valencia

Valencia College Theater has brought to life a rousing rendition of the provocative musical hit “Chicago,” at the newly renovated Performing Arts Center at Valencia College East Campus.
This beloved musical is widely acclaimed by critics and audiences alike, and works best when highlighted by tremendous talent from its large cast. This production features a diverse group of actors, singers and dancers that deliver the goods, and unique moments and extras that make this a show not to be missed.
When asked if this show lives up to his high expectations, director John DiDonna said “Yes it does. I think the students did a great job, I’m very pleased with everything that they pulled off.” DiDonna decided to make “Chicago” his first musical at Valencia College and this is the first musical at Valencia in over 30 years not directed by former theater department head Julia Gagne.
“Chicago” is based on true tales from the 1920s of murderous woman and the media frenzy that surrounded their crimes of passion. Not just enough to try and get out of prison without being sentenced to death, the two lead actresses work to capitalize on their newly found fame to propel them into stardom upon their release.
Rachele Taylor Rees who plays Velma Kelly kicked off this show with a bang as she appears through a trap door from center stage to perform her opening musical number “All That Jazz.”
“To get up at the start of the show and feel that energy from the crowd, it feels like all that hard work has paid off,” said Rees. Her commanding performance as former vocalist turned miffed murderess was a strong highlight of the evening, with savvy singing, dancing and acting throughout the show.
Another troubled femme fatale named Roxie Hart, played by Nicole Visco, works to one-up Kelly and reach her goal of starring on vaudeville. Though we see from the beginning that Hart is a manipulator and cold-blooded killer, Visco creates a delightful twist with her performance that draws the audience in with every charming quirk and pitch perfect note she sings.
These ladies compete for the help from a charming and ruthless trial lawyer named Billy Flynn played by Johnmichael McDonald. Under the expert guidance of DiDonna, who in the past instructed real lawyers how to act in the courtroom, McDonald nails his performance, especially his final imposing role during Hart’s day in court.
Other cast members are skilled in their supportive roles, most notably the lovely ladies Danielle Irigoyen, Katy Votapka, Taylor Duford, Kate Vermillion and Lauren Ford who play the “Cell Block Tango” girls. The strikingly beautiful and charming Ford also doubles as the master of ceremonies for this production, with a perfect on-stage charisma that sets the stage for what’s to come throughout the show.
The unsung members of “Chicago” featured behind all the action are the seven talented musicians making up the orchestra led by music director Tim Hanes.
“The challenge with ‘Chicago’ is a lot of people know the music so there are certain accuracies that have to be there,” said Hanes. “I’ve done ‘Chicago’ with a high school, with community theater, and semi-professional, and this cast is right up there, they’re really good.”
There are four performances of “Chicago” left at Valencia College with evening shows held at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 24, 25 and 26, and a final early matinee shows at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 27. A special one time only event will also be held after the performance on Oct. 25, with the cast and crew engaging in a talk-back with the audience about the production.
Ticket costs are $15 for general admission and $12 for students, seniors, faculty and alumni. A special $2 discount is available for advanced online ticket purchases by using the code “VALENCIAWEB” at http:///
By James Tutten
(All photos by James Tutten)
Nicole Visco (right) plays Roxie Hart along side Rachele Taylor Rees (left) as Velma Kelly.

The lovely Lauren Ford introduces the action as MC for "Chicago."

Johnmichael McDonald (center) performing along with Kate Vermillion (left) and Lauren Ford (right).

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

'Phantasmagoria IV' spotlight on Jill Lockhart

     ORLANDO — Jill Lockhart, who currently spends her evenings acting in “Phantasmagoria IV” which is showcased this month at the Orlando Shakespeare Center, also has a master’s degree in chemistry, and shares her scientific knowledge with students that she teaches at a local high school during the day.

     "I like to keep both sides of my mind engaged,” said Lockhart. “So I’m really into math and science and I do a lot of that, and I also like to do theater to feed my artistic side.”

     She first started to act when she performed in community theater projects off and on while attending high school. As she continued to reach for her educational goals in college, she had to make ends meet by working customer service jobs that were literally a headache.

     “I worked at Hollister when I was in college, folding clothes and greeting people, and it was horrible,” said Lockhart. “They spray the clothes down with this Hollister smell that gives you a headache and they play the loudest music all day long.”

     It was also during her time at Rollins College in Winter Park that she performed in a play called “Antigone,” and met director and theater professor John DiDonna.

     “Her split world is very interesting to me,” said DiDonna. “Jill tries everything, she learned fire performance for us, shes done dancing for us, and she has also choreographed a show for me.”

     After working with Lockhart on their first production, DiDonna contacted her about performing in another upcoming show, but soon learned that she was just about to leave the area to attend classes at Purdue University. Hard studying at graduate school over the next two years allowed Lockhart to earn her master’s degree in chemistry, and she eventually returned to her hometown of Orlando.

     She contacted DiDonna upon her return and was immediately cast in last year’s production of “Fragment(ed)” for Empty Spaces Theater. Starting off as a dancer and a chorus member, she has continued her acting work and now holds one of the roles of lead storytellers in the current production of “Phantasmagoria IV.”

     Lockhart plays a seductive siren named Rowan, who ranges in her performance from shy temptress to passionately boisterous depending on the needs of her character.

     It was also during her time with this show that she made quick friends with fellow actress and Empty Spaces newcomer Angela Trapp.

     When Trapp was asked about working on this production with Lockhart she said “She’s amazing, and I love working with somebody who is so focused all the time.”

     In addition to this show, Lockhart also works three different jobs teaching high school chemistry, working as a server at the Gnarly Barley, and also teaching dance classes at night during the weekdays. Her family and friends have continually supported her over the years for both her acting and educational pursuits.

     She serves as a fine example that hard work and determination can help you achieve your goals and reach your dreams in life.

By James Tutten

(Photos by James Tutten)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

New world of drama rises from 'Phantasmagoria IV'

ORLANDO — “Phantasmagoria IV: Hell Hath Risen” is the fourth installment of an annual Halloween inspired theatrical production, which is built around a mythological troupe of mystical storytellers.
This fantastical show that centers on the ancient art form of compelling narrative weaving has evolved over the years to become a uniquely diverse world unto its own. With this year’s addition of two special characters played by Bill Warriner and Jeremy Wood, stories are now shared with a deep purpose meant on discovering the truth behind this group’s twisted legacy.
“The biggest difference and the thing that I’m most excited about with this ‘Phantasmagoria’ is the strong story arc and strong through lines tying all the stories together,” said Seth Kubersky, one of the co-directors of this production. Kubersky points out that this show aims to provide adults with a sophisticated horror show highlighted by fine acting of literary works, and not mindless blood and guts seen at other Halloween attractions.
Stories that are shared by featured storytellers and other cast members are brilliantly acted and continue the tradition of content depth seen in years past.
Joshua Geoghagan who plays Leon Krantz has a superb performance in his featured tale depicting a man’s wild descent into madness and murderess thoughts. Another returning storyteller, Samantha O’Hare, who plays the role of Alice Liddell, is commanding in her on-stage persona and refined acting ability.
There are also three newly featured storytellers that shine in their lead roles, including two lovely ladies Jill Lockhart who plays Rowan, and Angela Trapp performing as Isabella, and an all-new ringmaster who acts as the troupe’s master of ceremonies played by Stephen Lima.
“Phantasmagoria IV” has an average run time of 75 minutes with no intermission, this includes a prologue and troupe introduction, six dance numbers including a set of aerial acrobatics, and eight stories that eventually lead to a grand battle and tearful goodbye. All this combined makes the pace of the show brisk, and cast members have stated that this is the most content fit into one show when compared to past performances.
With all the talk of stories and their importance in this production, it isn’t until the first dance number that the magic of “Phantasmagoria” truly comes to life. Following the first story that's featured around the skilled dancer Pandora played by Gina Makarova, there is a hauntingly beautiful dance number which is inspired by ancient Greek culture and masterfully blended with enchanting original music.
“In this piece there is an ancient Greek dance, well nobody knows what ancient Greek dance was like,” said lead choreographer Mila Makarova. “It’s not recorded anywhere, so we had to create something that isn’t ancient Greek, but gives the feeling that it could possibly be.”
More intriguing stories and dance numbers are shared as the production continues to its final conclusion. With brilliant dance choreography and special guest actors that act as a connection for the audience, this year’s show becomes a rich world that grows ever complex as the theatergoers peer deeper into the looking glass.
One of the seasoned cast members, Matt Carroll, who has been around for all four years of “Phantasmagoria,” spoke about many of the details with the progression of this production since its original conception.
“The first show was just an experiment, we had only around five stories and we were known as puppeteers then, we didn’t even have any names yet,” said Carroll. “From then to now we have a whole mythology, we each have names and character traits, and everything is a lot more cohesive.”
This story is far from finished, and this year also features a one time only extended prologue during the final performance on Halloween night. Past spirits are rumored to return and additional dialogue will hint at what is to come with next year’s production of “Phantasmagoria V.”
All performances for “Phantasmagoria IV: Hell Hath Risen” will be held at the Orlando Shakespeare Center on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evening starting at 8:30 p.m., which began on Oct. 11 and will run through Oct. 31, along with two special Monday night shows on Oct. 21 and 28.
Ticket costs are $20 for general admission and $15 for students and seniors. Ticket reservations can be made by calling 407-328-9005 and online by credit card at
By James Tutten
(All photos by James Tutten)
Kaitlin Elizabeth Baxter who plays Mercury, sits next to her cast mates during the performance.

Angela Trapp (left) and Jill Lockhart (right) are escorted by Bill Warriner near the end of the show.

Mila Makarova looks on at Danielle Marcucci who is in great distress.

Joshua Geoghagan goes after Danielle Marcucci in a mad fit of rage during his featured story.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Hell will rise once again with 'Phantasmagoria IV'

ORLANDO — Twisted tales of devilish delight will return for the fourth year in a row as “Phantasmagoria IV: Hell Hath Risen” opens at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center on Friday, Oct. 11.
Phantasmagoria has earned a strong following in the Central Florida theater community over the years, because shows are so original and have much to offer the audience. A brilliant blend of storytelling, drama, dance, special effects and more, make this a show that is not to be missed for anyone looking to celebrate the Halloween spirit with local live entertainment.
Like shows in the past, this year’s production is presented by DiDonna Production and The Empty Spaces Theatre Co(llaboration.) Starting from scratch after the end of last years performance run; scripting, art design, casting and all other work for this show is a year long process for the small but determined cast and crew.
As in years past “Phantasmagoria IV” is focused on a macabre troop of mystical storytellers that find themselves summoned through the ether of time to share classic tales with any who dare to listen.
“We’re seeing a lot more of the characters, and who the storytellers are and what the troop is,” said Alex Richmond, who returned for a few weeks from Chicago to help co-direct. “We’re getting more answers of what calls them here and who they are in general.”
The stories that will be told this year are wonderfully selected to be both frightening and mesmerizing. Audience members will surely be amazed by stories that span a litany of historical literary works including ancient Greek mythology, Charles Dickens, The Brothers Grim, Edgar Allen Poe and many other tales from around the world.
This year featured storytellers Angela Trapp, Jill Lockheart, Josh Geoghagan, and Samantha O’Hare are prepared to bring these fine works to life aided by a talented cast of dancers, puppeteers and chorus members. All of this will be lead by Stephen Lima, who makes his Phantasmagoria debut as the ringmaster of this wild circus sideshow.
“This show has a little something for everyone,” said Lima. “It’s going to be a visual spectacle, so come and have fun and get lost in the stories.”
Creator and director John DiDonna along with additional help by co-directors Kevin G. Becker and Seth Kubersky keep all of this work organized. This show will also feature original music by Tod Kimbro and Les Caulfield, fight direction by Bill Warriner, and choreography by Mila Makarova and Dion Smith.
Dion Smith, who has been involved with this production from its origins, is excited to once again be involved with Phantasmagoria as a dancer and choreographer. “The numbers this year still have the same waltz theme and Phantasmagoria eerie elegance to them, but it’s times ten this year,” said Smith. “We have some amazing cast members who really stepped up their game this year and they are waltzing up a storm.”
All performances for “Phantasmagoria IV: Hell Hath Risen” will be held on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evening starting at 8:30 p.m, starting on Oct. 11 through 31, along with two special Monday night shows on Oct. 21 and 28.
This year will also feature a special one time only event on Halloween night, which will includes an extended epilogue that will preview what is to come with Phantasmagoria V in 2014.
The cost for tickets is $20 for general admission and $15 for students and seniors. Ticket reservations can be made by calling 407-328-9005 and online by credit card at

By James Tutten

(Above photo by Kristen Wheeler / khphotographics)

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