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Bright lights of Vegas

Liz Byrum | Friday, September 2, 2005

The nicknames “Rap Master,” “Scat Girl” and “Lyric Queen” don’t sound like the usual descriptions associated with an a cappella group. That is, until recently, when Toxic Audio burst onto the contemporary a cappella scene.

Tonight, the DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts will kick off its second season with a show unlike any Notre Dame has seen before. Toxic Audio is leaving its standing show at the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas for a one-night appearance in the 900-seat Leighton Concert Hall in the DPAC.

Toxic Audio got its start in 1998 in Florida, where members of the group were working as singers in various different a cappella groups. The founder, Rene Ruiz, decided that it was time to “take [this art form] out of the barbershop and bring it to more modern times.”

While the group was being formed, Ruiz was looking for a name that was as far from a barbershop quartet-type name as he could find.

“A group called Toxic Audio would be the last place a person would expect to find the types of a cappella sounds that our group creates,” Ruiz said.

The group now includes five permanent members, as well as a few guest vocalists who perform in its Las Vegas show. Each member comes from an extensive performance background. They have attended a variety of music programs at universities around the U.S., and have since performed in many off-Broadway shows and other theatrical events.

Toxic Audio’s performances are an entertaining mix of music, comedy and other theatrical comments. Using only their voices, the group members create sounds ranging from drumbeats and bass lines to guitar-like solos and other vocal stretches. The group’s repertoire includes contemporary pop songs, such as Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time,” classics, including “Hooked on a Feeling,” and original compositions.

Toxic Audio is known to develop amazing improvisations while on stage, as well. While hearing a song about life at Notre Dame isn’t out of the question, don’t expect something ordinary from the band.

“If the venue and audience felt right, the chances are, we would probably make up a song on the spot,” Ruiz said.

The group has received recognition in many areas since it came together in 1998. In 2004, Toxic Audio was awarded the New York Drama Desk Award for “Best Unique Theatrical Performance.” Shalisa James, the group’s resident “Vocal Queen” also received the award for “Favorite Female Vocalist” in the A Cappella Community Awards in 2005.

Some of Toxic Audio’s more famous corporate clients have included Disney, Mitsubishi, IBM and McDonald’s. However, the largest client yet seems to be the most recent, the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas. Toxic Audio is in the middle of a successful stint at the famous hotel, the same venue where the Blue Man Group, a famed experimental music act, got its Las Vegas start.

The Vegas experience has been eye-opening so far for the group. Toxic Audio has enjoyed enthusiastic and attentive audiences during its run there.

“It’s pretty exciting to get into Vegas and see your billboards up over the strip,” Ruiz said.

After some time off for the holidays, the group will be off to Japan where it will be performing its unique style of music for entirely new audiences during a six-week tour.

Toxic Audio’s performance in DPAC is promised to be one full of amazing vocal skill and laughs and could certainly be called a unique experience.

Student tickets for tonight’s 8 p.m. show can be purchased for $15.00 at the Performing Arts Center ticket office by phone or by visiting the DPAC Web site at http://performingarts.nd.edu