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April 4, 2008

Review - Sounds of Originality

Las Vegas Review Journal (NV):

Oh sure, the showoffs in Toxic Audio can shape a rhythmic version of Harry Nillson's "Coconut" out of coughs, sniffs and sneezes. But what can they do when the mulberries aren't in bloom? Plenty, as it turns out.

No instruments or recordings are employed by the a cappella quintet, but there's plenty of instrumentation. Every drum solo and bass beat comes from the mouths of the five Toxic Audio members. The quintet carved out some off-Broadway turf in the "wordless theater" genre of "Stomp" and the Blue Man Group in 2004, so it's a no-brainer that they would want a base camp on the Strip alongside those shows.

Toxic had a limited run at Luxor in 2005, and now is ensconced in the V Theater at the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood for what the cast hopes will be an open-ended stay (with about four more months guaranteed).

Word of mouth can only help the troupe get established. To the credit of their originality, describing them usually comes off like "The Player" or some other flick in which you see a desperate writer getting about 15 seconds to make a pitch to a movie studio executive. Here, you'd say it's Manhattan Transfer meets The Second City, meets Doug E. Fresh or Rahzel (depending on which beatboxer is your generational reference point).

Rene Ruiz originally pulled the act together with friends he met as theme park entertainers in Orlando, Fla. He anchors the new effort with original cast member Paul Sperrazza, the live wire who supplies most of the beatboxing and comic energy, and three singers younger than most of the songs covered.

Maybe the real way to convey the spirit of the show is to focus on Sperrazza's keystone routine. He pulls a female audience member to the stage and snuggles up to her old-school by producing a vinyl album labeled "Love Songs" and cueing up a turntable. As the record player begins to "play" "Dream a Little Dream of Me" -- Sperrazza is doing the song -- other cast members walk out and "switch" the turntable speeds to mess him up.

If you're not old enough to remember what it sounded like when you forgot to switch from "45" to "33 1/3" rpms, Sperrazza does an amazing demonstration of what your boomer parents suffered as teens. (We didn't walk five miles through the snow to school, but trouble we had our share.)

Other inspired segments include Meg Wasik's sculpting layers of harmony with an instant "echo loop" of played-back notes she just sang, and a sketch in which Christine Vienna begins singing the old jazz standard "Autumn Leaves," only to have the others produce signs that command her to switch the vocal to French, Spanish, Japanese, German-- even Tagalog.

Hopefully, the troupe will use the residency to develop more new material of equal quality, so they can retire lesser moments: a Michael Jackson bit that falls into the chasm between tribute and spoof, an Evanescence cover that likewise drops into the gulf between "current" and "classic."

This week, the group moved from an early 6 p.m. time slot into an even earlier 5:30 p.m. start. To make the best of the awkward schedule, those marketing the show should try to convey that it's 95 percent family-friendly, without making parents come down to the "It's all about the kids" level of bubble shows or trained cats.

There's one squirmy moment for Mom and Dad. It's another audience participation bit, in which the Toxins conjure up classic TV themes at the touch of a remote. But when the audience volunteer clicks the remote, it switches to the wacka-wacka music and moaning of a porno movie.

A young lad of about 10, wearing a baseball cap right up front, didn't get the joke. He turned around to his dad with a quizzical look. Dad whispered back an apparent explanation. The lad's eyes widened in delightful surprise, and he turned back to enjoy the windfall he never would have found at the Dirk Arthur magic show.

Posted by acapnews at April 4, 2008 9:22 PM

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