If all that "cabaret" conjures for you is performers in formal wear sidled up to a baby grand sedately crooning standards, then prepare to have your mind expanded. Or "exploded" might be a more fitting word, 'cause Toxic Audio, the quintet that Austin Cabaret Theatre is bringing to town April 30 and May 1, takes songs so familiar as to be practically petrified – "Stand by Me," "Autumn Leaves," "Paperback Writer" – and detonates them with a charge of vocal C-4 created with innovative arrangements, watertight harmonies, and blasts of comic irreverence straight out of Warner Bros.' looniest Looney Tunes. Toxic Audio's members can scat, beat box, mimic musical instruments, even cough and hack with melodic precision. They don't lean on old-school cabaret approaches or even on that omnipresent baby grand. These singers work purely a cappella, crafting their jaw-dropping range of instrumental and rhythmic effects with nothing but their sublime voices.
The group is the brainchild of an Austinite, Rene Ruiz, who envisioned a vocal ensemble with the theatrical ingenuity and energy of Stomp or Tap Dogs. At the time, the Texas Ex was in Orlando, working as a performer and director for – big surprise – Disney, and a production of Forever Plaid connected him with tenor Paul Sperrazza and baritone Jeremy James. Combining their talents with those of James' wife, Shalisa, an alto, and soprano Michelle Mailhot-Valines, Toxic Audio was born. The group made a hit debut at the 1998 Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival and was quickly snapped up to perform for Disney-MGM Studios. In the years since, Toxic Audio has gone on to national acclaim, with extended gigs in Las Vegas and off-Broadway. Now, the fabulous fivesome (with all-important sixth member, John Valines, who controls the amplifiers, mixers, and processors that enhance the group's vocal pyrotechnics) is coming to Austin to blow you – and all your old ideas about cabaret – away.
Toxic Audio performs Thursday, April 30, and Friday, May 1, 8:30pm, at the Mansion at Judges' Hill, 1900 Rio Grande. For more information, call 453-2287 or visit www.austincabaret.blogspot.com.