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Performance

If one asked Miller Place native and opera singer Chris Remkus what makes opera so appealing, he would say a production is more than just a costume and set, that it’s the combination of epic story and deep-throated, passionate voices that transcend the mundane of the normal world.

“I think what’s so thrilling about opera is you have these pieces in the repertoire which are just complete works of art,” the 29-year-old Remkus said. “They tell a complete story that is both musically thrilling but also sincere and authentic in its intentions.”

Remkus has long worked to perfect his voice as a tenor, and while he has loved choir and musicals, it is opera that has captured the young man’s imagination.

Chris Remkus, a tenor opera singer who graduated from Miller Place High School in 2009, is set to star in a production of ‘Candide’ at the New England Conservatory Oct. 23 and 24. Photo from Remkus

“You’re using the full range of your voice, and you’re using the full dynamic of your acting capability to create a story and create a character that is thrilling to witness and participate in,” he said.

Now Remkus is cast in the title role of Candide for the New England Conservatory’s two-night production of the late Leonard Bernstein’s English-speaking operetta “Candide.” The opera is being put on in celebration of what would have been the famous composer’s 100th birthday.

Remkus was born to the stage at a very young age when his father, Joseph Remkus, a retired chemistry teacher from Sagamore Middle School in Sachem who also acted as director for the schools theater program, would bring his children, Chris and his sister Lauren, to the school’s auditorium to watch while his students rehearsed. Eventually his kids became part of the performance.

“He seemed to like it — being on stage,” Remkus’ father said. “We did ‘Damn Yankees,’ ‘Good News,’ ‘Bye, Bye Birdy,’ and more. My music director from junior high said he had a really good voice — even back then she could hear him really clear.”

Candide is based off of the 18th-century philosopher Voltaire’s notorious 1759 satire “Candide, ou l’Optimisme,” which follows the story of Candide as he journeys across Europe while testing the very concept of overriding optimism, and that people must make sense of a world that often displays such barbarity.

“It was just a role that speaks to me — it captures the satire and comedy in the role, and it also has a deep undertone to the story,” Remkus said. “We can just see how crazy the world can be and how terrible things can happen, and were left trying to make sense of this seemingly meaningless world.”

It’s a role that Remkus’ father said his son has worked so long and so hard for. As a young man the opera singer was always involved in theater and music throughout his high school career. First, he played saxophone in the traditional high school band, big band and jazz band. Over time his classmates and friends kept telling him he had a great voice, and that he should join choir as well. In his senior year he was picked to be one of only 12 young people for the New York All-State select choir and was also the only person on the North Shore of Long Island to be selected for All-Eastern choir.

After he graduated from Miller Place in 2009 Remkus left for Hofstra University to get his bachelor’s degree in music. He took time off to develop his voice even more, taking classes at the Manhattan School of Music before heading upstate to get his master’s in music from the Bard Conservatory of Music. In 2017 the tenor headed to Boston to participate in the New England Conservatory’s pre-professional program, specifically looking to get a graduate diploma in voice. Remkus said he expects to finally end his schooling by early 2019.

Beyond Candide, the young opera singer said he wishes to one day make it to Europe to perform in the opera scene there. The life of an opera singer is much less sedentary than some might assume, Remkus said. Often opera singers are employed for the length of one or two years before having to move on to another opera hall and another company. Despite the anticipated traveling, he said he is excited to see the world.

“We’re always bouncing around exploring new avenues and new pieces which keeps it really exciting and refreshing,” Remkus said.

Remkus’ father, who will be taking the trek to Boston to watch his son perform Candide Oct. 23 and 24, said he could not be any happier for his son.

“Being a theater person myself I couldn’t be any more proud of him,” he said.

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Singer/songwriter to take fans down a road of memories

John Denver tribute artist Ted Vigil. Photo by Heather Bunker

By Rita J. Egan

On Feb. 13, music lovers will be traveling country roads, and not-so country roads, to Theatre Three in Port Jefferson when the venue presents Ted Vigil: A Tribute to John Denver.

John Denver tribute artist Ted Vigil. Photo by Heather Bunker
John Denver tribute artist Ted Vigil. Photo by Heather Bunker

For the last few years, Ted Vigil has been touring the country with the tribute show and providing the late singer’s fans a night of musical memories. When Douglas Quattrock, the theater’s group sales coordinator and director of development and marketing, and Vivian Koutrakos, managing director, found out the singer was interested in performing on Long Island, they watched a video of him and were extremely impressed.

Quattrock said that Vigil not only physically resembles the late singer but also perfectly captures how Denver would sing and perform right down to every intonation. “I was blown away because I grew up with his music,” he said.

Preferring rock music when he was younger, creating a John Denver tribute show wasn’t always the musical road Vigil was on. However, he couldn’t escape many noticing the resemblance to Denver, who died in a plane crash in 1997. He was only 53.

“I get it every day. I get it at the grocery store. I get it when I’m jogging with my ski hat on. It’s the first thing that my mother-in-law said when I met her 30 years ago: ‘You kind of look like John Denver’,” Vigil said in a recent phone interview. 

When he began performing as a teenager in Olympia, Washington, Vigil would sing and play drums with local rock bands. The entertainer said the resemblance to Denver wasn’t as obvious when he was younger. He admitted he used to have big ’80s hair — “permed and ratted up. I definitely had a different look going on,” he said.

Vigil said that while his style of music was different from Denver’s, he was familiar with the singer’s songs because his mother would play the musician’s 8-tracks in her car.

While Vigil always enjoyed performing, after he got married and had children he took a break from the stage and worked as a truck driver. Through the years, his music style also changed. “As I got older I kind of started moving away from the harder rock and started listening to other stuff,” he said.

Once his children were older, Vigil started performing again, and the Denver look-alike found his musical style meshing with the legend’s more and more.

‘It’s the first thing that my mother-in-law said when I met her 30 years ago: You kind of look like John Denver.’ — Ted Vigil

In 2006 he, along with thousands of contestants from 28 states, New Zealand, Australia and Canada entered the Talent Quest 2006 contest in Laughlin, Nevada. He arrived at the contest prepared to participate in the rock/pop category where he sang the Led Zeppelin song,“Rock and Roll,” and the Guns N’ Roses hit, “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” When he arrived, someone suggested he also enter the country category.

While he didn’t win in rock/pop, he walked away with first place in the country category singing Denver’s “Annie’s Song” and “Rocky Mountain High.” While he was in Nevada, many commented on how he resembled the late singer, and after that he entered and won the KOMO TV 4’s Northwest Afternoon Celebrity Look-Alike Contest.

At his appearance at Talent Quest, he caught the attention of a pilot and sound engineer that both had worked with Denver, and they encouraged him to do a tribute show. His first one was in 2006, and by 2009, he was touring all over the states.

In 2010 Steve Weisberg, a former lead guitar player with Denver, began to perform on stage with Vigil. The singer said while touring for four years with Weisberg, who passed away in 2015, he learned a lot about Denver, and during downtime on the road, the guitar player would share with him how the late singer would approach songs.

“He was fun to play with and people loved him. He told stories and jokes on stage about his experience working with John. I really miss Steve,” the singer said.

Vigil admitted that even though he knew a few guitar chords, he needed to learn more for the tribute show, because Denver was an accomplished guitar player. Once he learned the songs on the instrument, he said he was blown away by the technicality.

“It was really a challenge for me to learn these songs on the guitar. I didn’t realize how great a guitar player John was. Also, how difficult it was to sing in a more quiet tone, and you have that voice control, you have the long extended notes, and with all the bravado and all that, it’s really beautiful. John used his voice like an instrument. He was just a really technical singer,” Vigil said. 

John Denver tribute artist Ted Vigil. Photo by Heather Bunker
John Denver tribute artist Ted Vigil. Photo by Heather Bunker

The singer, who also is a songwriter, released an album in 2010 with his own and Denver’s songs. Currently, he is working on his next CD with all original tunes. He said performing Denver’s songs has affected his performances overall. “John has definitely influenced me a lot as far as style and just being a more rounded singer, instead of screaming rock ‘n roll stuff,” he said.

Vigil, who had the opportunity to play at Denver’s Windstar Foundation in Aspen before it dissolved, is looking forward to the intimate setting of Theatre Three. The singer, who has performed both solo and with a seven-piece band, said he’ll be bringing his solo show to the theater. While he enjoys performing with a band, he feels in some settings the audience can hear the lyrics better when there are less instruments, which he finds fitting for Denver’s music. “I think John’s music really was emotional, and it really hits the heart,” the singer said. 

Vigil said he will perform at Theatre Three many of the songs that music lovers remember of Denver’s including “Rocky Mountain High,” “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” “Annie’s Song” and “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” He also enjoys performing “Grandma’s Feather Bed,” “Like a Sad Song” and “Poems, Prayers and Promises,” which weren’t played on the radio as much as the legend’s other songs.

“My favorite songs are some of the side B record songs where they didn’t get a lot of airplay but they are just beautiful songs,” he said.

The singer will also perform a couple of his own pieces, including “Sing My Songs,” which he wrote as a tribute to Denver and other popular singers who have passed away.

Vigil is grateful to be touring and meeting so many interesting people and sharing their memories of Denver. He believes music is an important part of life. “It’s such a wonderful thing — music. It really helps people I think emotionally and spiritually and mentally to cope with life because life is hard,” he said.

Theatre Three, 412 Main Street, Port Jefferson, will present Ted Vigil: A Tribute to John Denver on Saturday, Feb. 13, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35 per person. For more information, visit www.theatrethree.com or call 631-928-9100.

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The Sound Symphony Orchestra’s Family concert will feature music from ‘Peter and the Wolf’ and ‘Frozen.’ File photo

The Sound Symphony Orchestra is putting a twist on a classic family-friendly composition. Nearly every year the orchestra holds its family concert, and this year is no exception with its unique rendition of “Peter and the Wolf — Lost in the Museum!” this Sunday at the Comsewogue School District’s John F. Kennedy Middle School, 200 Jayne Blvd., Port Jefferson Station.

“We’ve built an extended narrative around Peter and the Wolf. So while the kids and their families are going  to be hearing the story of “Peter and the Wolf” in its entirety, we’ve embedded it in a larger story,” said Dorothy Savitch, music director and conductor of the orchestra.

The original “Peter and the Wolf” symphony was written by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev in 1936 with the intent to cultivate “musical tastes in children from the first years of school.” The story follows a young boy named Peter, a bird, a cat and a duck on an adventure to catch a devilish wolf.

However, the Sound Symphony Orchestra’s rendition depicts a boy of the same name whose drawing of a wolf comes to life and jumps into a painting during a trip to the art museum. The orchestra helps bring the paintings and the story to life alongside narrator Comsewogue School District Superintendent Joseph Rella, as Peter gets lost during his quest for the wolf.

According to Savitch, the orchestra hopes to excite children and spark their imaginations by incorporating paintings from the Brooklyn Museum.

“I think by letting our imaginations go, by allowing different kinds of art to speak to each other and speak to us, we can better express ourselves,” Savitch said.

“Frozen” will also get its five minutes of fame as the orchestra highlights portions of the film in the concert, which is always a big hit among younger audiences. Savitch added that “kids always start singing along with all the melodies they know so well.”

But viewers of all ages won’t simply be entertained but also treated to passes to the Brooklyn Museum upon request. The Brooklyn Museum donated 125 passes to the orchestra in light of the concert. Those interested in exploring the museum and finding the painting incorporated in “Peter and the Wolf — Lost in the Museum!” can get a pass at the door once the concert ends. Children can also receive handouts with games and puzzles based on the concert.

While children do not perform in the orchestra, the 65-member ensemble has a variety of musicians from 17 to around 80 years old. Savitch said some orchestra musicians have served the ensemble for around 30 years. Now, they have several generations of family members who perform for the ensemble. Savitch started working with the orchestra around 20 years ago.

For Savitch, the concert’s story line hits a sweet spot. “For me and for many people [in the orchestra], the composition was our doorway into loving classical music.”

Residents can see Peter find his wolf and a way home on Sunday, Jan. 31, at the John F. Kennedy Middle School’s auditorium at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for seniors and students and will be sold at the door. Admission is free for children 12 years old and under. For more information, call 631-827-9022.

SPARKBOOM’s Off the Walls event in Huntington last year. File photo by Dan Woulfin

The sun has set on SPARKBOOM, a grant-funded program run by the Huntington Arts Council that helped foster young and emerging Long Island artists.

The program was discontinued after its grant ran out, according to Maureen Starr, who does public relations for the council. In an email, Starr said the council wasn’t awarded a Regional Economic Development Council grant from New York State this year.

SPARKBOOM was in existence for two years. The program’s last event was held on April 18 in Huntington.
The program’s goals were to showcase local artists from ages 18 to 34 and try to connect them with opportunities and networking on Long Island through a variety of different events and exhibitions. The program was all-inclusive when it came to the type of art forms it would promote — musicians, photographers, painters, visual performers and more participated in events.

The New York State Council on the Arts, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and the New York State Legislature supported the grant-funded program, along with many other partners.

“We were thinking, what can we do to help emerging artists [who] tend to be underrepresented and are usually recently out of college?” Michelle Carollo said in a phone interview. Carollo was the artistic supervisor for SPARKBOOM.

Pandafan performs at a SPARKBOOM event. File photo by Dan Woulfin
Pandafan performs at a SPARKBOOM event. File photo by Dan Woulfin

Carollo helped oversee and organize more than 10 events, which included a holiday party that featured musicians and spoken-word poets, as well as window art and several film screenings with after-parties featuring musicians.

One of her favorite events, Off the Walls, was a block party and street fair in Huntington Station that showcased more than 30 art vendors, a BMX stunt bike show, live Latin dancing and an interactive mural painting.

“This event was unique because we were able to publicize it in two languages, so we were able to attract a much larger audience, and a couple hundred people ended up contributing to the community mural,” she said.

Steven Licardi is a poet who worked with SPARKBOOM and described the experience as “overwhelmingly positive.” He believes that what it did so well was combine art forms and artists on a large scale and show the public how talented Long Island artists are. He also thought that SPARKBOOM was doing successfully what other organizations were either not taking advantage of or not doing as well.

“Long Island has a booming artistic community … I would argue that it’s more than or equally as vibrant and diverse as Manhattan or Brooklyn,” he said in an email. “Long Island is teeming with talented people — particularly young people — who are tempting to redefine and re-imagine what art is.”

Long Island is getting older, and its youth population is smaller than neighboring regions, statistics show.

According to the Long Island Index, the Island’s 55 and older population is growing by about 2 percent per year. The trend started to accelerate in 2007 and is expected to last for another decade. In Nassau and Suffolk counties, 29 percent of residents were over 55 in 2013, up from 25 percent in 2007.

Meanwhile, the number of 25 to 34 year olds was declining through 2007 and has held relatively steady at 11 percent of the population since then. That’s less than other suburban parts of the region and much less than New York City, which stands at 18 percent.

Employment is one of the main reasons young people leave Long Island, according to a Destination LI survey published last year. Nearly 57 percent of millennials were unable to find jobs aligned with their skills on Long Island.

For one young artist, SPARKBOOM helped her advance professionally, she said.

“SPARKBOOM offered me an entryway into performing more meaningful shows on Long Island, a goal I was having difficulty reaching on my own,” Alexa Dexa, a musician who participated in several of the program’s events, said in an email. “As a young artist, it was extremely encouraging to participate in events that fostered a real sense of community, and to be selected on the merit of my work … It was a blessing to have the exposure and funding for my performances that the infrastructure of SPARKBOOM was able to provide,” she said.

Marc Courtade, the executive director of the Huntington Arts Council, said the curtain has closed on the program for the foreseeable future.

“I am sorry to say there are no plans [to keep a program like this going] at the moment,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s unfortunate because it was a very good program, there was really nothing comparable to this program.”

Licardi echoed Couratade’s sentiment.

“The loss of SPARKBOOM is a huge blow to the Long Island arts scene.”

By Julianne Cuba

Peaches Rodriguez, a break dancing pioneer, stand-up comedian and East Northport resident who broke into stardom after her role in the 1984 film, “Beat Street,” is the unlikely doppelgänger of a well-known French politician.

Comedian and dancer Peaches Rodriguez, above, is enjoying a new level of intercontinental fame, thanks to her resemblance to French politician Marine Le Pen. Photo from Peaches Rodriguez
Comic and dancer Peaches Rodriguez, above, is enjoying a new level of fame, thanks to her resemblance to French politician Marine Le Pen. Photo from Rodriguez

After a break dancing competition in Queens last month, Abdel Karim, who is a hip-hop choreographer and a friend of a friend of Rodriguez on Facebook, created a video meme of Rodriguez break dancing with the suggestion that it was actually Marine Le Pen, the popular nationalistic politician, dancing just after local elections in France.

Because of its extreme absurdity, the video went viral in France, with nearly 300,000 views on Facebook. That video, along with a second video of Rodriguez and a few other break-dancers, also went viral in the United States, with more than 100,000 hits.

“It’s always good to get exposure no matter how you get it,” Rodriguez said in a phone interview this week. “You can’t control something that goes viral. And you have to take it as it comes. It’s almost so random you just have to roll with it and enjoy it as it happens … the views are continuing to go up.”

It’s as if there was a video of a Hillary Clinton look-alike break dancing after an election, Rodriguez suggested for comparison — because that’s exactly what happened, she said.

Comedian and dancer Peaches Rodriguez is enjoying a new level of intercontinental fame, thanks to her resemblance to French politician Marine Le Pen, above. Photo by Rémi Noyon, through Flickr Creative Commons license
A video of Peaches Rodriguez has gone viral, due to her resemblance to French politician Marine Le Pen, above. Photo by Rémi Noyon, through Flickr Creative Commons license

In the 1980s, after moving from Connecticut to New York with the hopes of beginning a career in comedy, Rodriguez said she got into break dancing after realizing how good she actually was at that style of dance.

Today, Rodriguez still does both — stand-up comedy and break dancing. But her main job is a traveling comedian in the tristate area, she said.

“I break-dance part time, they have battles and events,” she said. “It’s a cool underground scene.”

Rodriguez also spends her time mentoring young, novice dancers in the industry.

Due to her new intercontinental fame, Rodriguez said she has a few gigs already lined up in the U.S.
Rodriguez added that if Clinton wins the 2016 presidential election, she would not hesitate to dress up like the former U.S. secretary of state and bust a move or two.