New York Cool


from the archives of: www.newyorkcool.com

Mikal Saint George sits down with off-Broadway
sensation, Toxic Audio.

Toxic Audio
Toxic Audio

Picture it. I am six years old walking through lower Manhattan with my father. I am surrounded by the irate screams of stoned cab drivers, sober junkies and hot-blooded transvestite manicurists. There are hippies, halter top clad women protesting porn and punks -- back in the day when punk was actually rebellious. It was grimy, decadent, brimming with life. I look up at my father and with all of the self assuredness a worldly six year old could muster think, “You can go home now, I’ll be fine. You don’t belong here. Leave me, I’ll be fine but you get out of here before you get hurt” I never felt safe until I hit the city streets.

Now, nearly 900 years later, I still fall in love with this town a bit more each day. No, I do not like being told where, when or if I can smoke a cigarette (even though I quit some time ago), I still want to scream every time someone decides to teach a wobbling two year old toddler how to walk down stairs at the subway entrance during rush hour and I have been known to spend a day and a half trying to get across town in a cab.

I also saw Guernica up close at MOMA, made eye-contact with Gorbachov at the corner of fifth and 57th and have played (and won!) several drinking games with major rock stars from Scrap Bar to Squeeze Box to Au Bar. My point is that as draining as this city can be, everyday is an opportunity to find something to justify it. At times, yes, it is like trying to find hay in a needle stack - but that is part of the fun of it.

Case in point, and well worth the trek across the theme park that has become Times Square to the John Houseman Theatre, is the astoundingly entertaining Toxic Audio in Loudmouth. Part performance art / variety / comedy, part musical theatre, part concert this ensemble dazzles it’s audience with searing electric guitars, primal baselines and gut wrenching drum beats spanning classical, pop, rock and jazz. Oh, did I mention there are no musical instruments? Not one. No Steinway, Zidjian, Yamaha or Fender. Not even a triangle, not so much as a tissue paper and comb. All of this symphonic majesty is created using nothing but the human voice.

Michelle Mailhot-Valines
Michelle Mailhot-Valines

After seeing the show three or four times (I have since seen it twice more!), I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to sit down with the entire cast as well as the technical director to discuss the past, present and future of this high-octane, thoroughly original production. With less than an hour before curtain, I sat down with:

Jeremy James (Performer, Co-Writer) a hunky JFK Jr. look-a-like. He has a raspy belt that practically defines 80’s power ballads - look out Bon Jovi.

Shalisa James (Performer, Co-Music Director, Arranger) maybe it is the Ginger Grant red hair, or the velvety, lush vocals -her cover of Evanescence's 'Bring Me To Life' is breath-taking - or maybe just the black corset that is part of her David Brooks designed costume, she commands the stage with a sweet vampishness.

Michelle Mailhot-Valines (Performer, Co-Music Director, Arranger) She possesses a cherubic beauty that belies a power-house voice. Surprisingly, she is off-stage, the quietest of the ensemble.

Rene Ruiz (Performer, Co-Writer, Conceiver, Director) The definite ringmaster. He has a gift for stone faced humor. On stage he is reminicent of a baritone Tim Conway.

Paul Sperrazza (Performer, Co-Writer) is a scene stealing persona that could only be concieved by Jim Henson. If Bert and Ernie had a break-dancing, pop star, martial artist best pal, it would be Sperrazza.

John A. Valines III (Technical Director, Sound) The Great Oz behind the velvet curtain!

NYC.COM: WHAT IS THE INSPIRATION? WHERE DOES SOMETHING
LIKE THIS COME FROM?

Rene: It kind of comes from two separate sources. One is my background and interest in theatre and in really liking shows that don’t follow the norm and are kind of unique and explore new ideas and new types of entertainment. So I was seeing a lot of shows like Blue Man Group and Stomp and Cirque du Soleil and watching what they were doing with these art forms that have been around for a really long time. And finding a way to make them fresh and unique and visual and all of those things. That was one side of it. The other side was I was working in Orlando, Florida at a lot of the theme parks there and working primarily in A Capella music. Which is where I met everybody here.

NYC.COM: YOU ALL CAME TOGETHER WORKING IN THEME PARKS?

Rene: Yes, right. And we were all doing different forms of A Cappella. like Doo-Wop and patriotic and vocal jazz things and I thought, well here is something that no one has ever presented to a theatre audience in a theatrical way and it was an opportunity to put something together that, again would be fresh and unique and contemporary to a lot of new listeners. There is an outlet in Orlando, Florida called the Orlando Fringe Festival -- there are several around the country and around the world -- and they afford a great opportunity for performers in the area to experiment with new types of entertainment with new shows, with new ideas. The whole show was basically put together for an appearance at the Fringe Festival and was so successful and just took off that we decided to stay together as a team. The dream became “Hey - we might be able to take this somewhere and eventually be able to get to a New York audience and present our work there.”

NYC.COM: I LOVE THIS SHOW! I OFTEN HAVE DIFFICULTY EXPLAINING IT TO PEOPLE BECAUSE IT DOES NOT FIT INTO ANY TRADITIONAL CATEGORY. HOW DO ANY OF YOU DESCRIBE IT?

Jeremy: We use words like “tight harmonies,” “improv,” “comedy,” “fun.” I say instead of going to the theatre it’s like going to a party. There is a lot of audience participation involved and it’s real. What we do that is maybe a little bit different than some shows is we like that interaction. We want people from the very intro (referring here to a series of questions, instructions and sing-alongs projected to a screen on stage to encourage audience participation) - we’re getting people barking back at the screen and inter-acting - it’s an interactive party and we need that audience participation.

Shalisa: Sometimes we have an audience member on stage and they (the audience) start heckling for us to do something or for the audience member to do something and we actually enjoy that! There are moments in the show that are very open and playful and what I find interesting about it is that we take you on such a journey that for a 5 year old kid there is something that will appeal and for an 80 year old there is something that will appeal. So while the entire body of work may not exactly be someone’s cup of tea, there is something in it for everybody.

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