Stage Door Review
Sunday, February 12, 2023
written & directed by Rick Miller
Kidoons/WYRD Productions, Grand Theatre, London
February 10-25, 2023;
Streetcar Crowsnest, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto
May 10-28, 2023
Rick Miller: “It’s just you and I now trying to cope with the past
London’s Grand Theatre is currently presenting BOOM X, the second part of Rick Miller’s ambitious BOOM trilogy. Many will have seen the first part entitled simply BOOM, when it played in Toronto and London in 2015. BOOM covered, as its subtitle states, “The music, culture and events that shaped a generation”, namely the Baby Boomers, covering the period 1945-1969. BOOM X focusses on the period 1970-1995. In 2021 Miller premiered the third part of the trilogy with BOOM YZ that covers the period 1995-2020. As Miller has put it, “BOOM is the story of my parents' generation, BOOM X is the story of my generation, and now BOOM YZ is the story of my kids’ generation, and the world they’re inheriting from us”.
Like BOOM, BOOM X is technologically amazing and Rick Miller is a phenomenal performer. In BOOM he did 100 different voices in 100 minutes, In BOOM X he repeats that astonishing feat. Miller is not simply talented, he has an extraordinary gift for imitation. He voices historical persons young and old, male and female, Black and White. He dubs everyone from ordinary people to political leaders and celebrities to voices in commercials. He is especially fond of imitating the voices of singers. In BOOM X he gives you performances from a-ha, Alanis Morissette, Amii Stewart, Axl Rose, Bono, Boy George, Carl Douglas, The Clash, David Bowie, David Byrne, Devo, Gord Downie, Grandmaster Flash, KISS, Kurt Cobain, Men Without Hats, Michael Crawford, Michael Jackson, Pink Floyd, RUN-DMC, Simple Minds, Stevie Wonder, Sting and Tina Turner just to name a few. While the vocal security of Morten Harket’s high notes in a-ha’s “Take On Me” eludes Miller, his tribute to Gord Downie is quite moving.
As in BOOM, Miller begins BOOM X by setting up video interviews with real people whose reminiscences structure the evening. While there were three in BOOM, there are four in BOOM X. One is Howard, a seemingly ordinary guy, older than Miller, whom Miller interviews in a diner. Another is Steph from Exeter, Ontario. A third is Annika, a woman old enough to have been born in the former East Germany. The fourth is Brandon (played by actor Sébastien Heins), whose father is South-African and whose mother is Jamaican. As in BOOM, we assume that these people have been randomly chosen for their different perspectives on the period 1970-1995. For most of the show this seems true but as we move forward in time and as the interviewees move forward in telling their life stories, the more we realize what these four have in common. As in BOOM, this realization is the greatest surprise of the show.
BOOM X has a much more cohesive feeling than did BOOM, likely because this period covers Miller’s own life from his birth in 1970 through his school days and two architecture degrees from McGill to his breakthrough with MacHomer (1995) and his marrying and starting a family. Miller’s life thus provides a central thread to follow, one that was missing in BOOM, to guide us through the incredible mass of detail from history and popular culture that the show bombards us with.
The show is deliberately set up to blast us with almost too much minutiae to take in because we receive information, often simultaneously, in three visual formats and in at least one aural format. Rick Miller has designed his own set to consist of an angled screen, looking like piece of folded paper unfolded, in front of a small rectangular playing area backed by curved screen. When Miller recreates his interviews (he does his own voice and that of the interviewee), he steps onto the stage to one side or the other of the folded front screen.
When he impersonates a singer, he slips in between the front and back screens often effecting a rapid costume change on the way in. While singing his subject’s song, sometimes accompanying himself on the guitar, images from history or popular culture will flash across the front screen while Bruno Matte’s lighting also allows us to see Miller through the screen. At the same time news captions crawl like a slanted chyron across the outer screen. An announcement of an important event, such as the Kent State murders, may also be played over the music Miller is making. The synchronization of Nicolas Dostie and Irina Litvinenko’s projections with Miller’s live acting and dubbing is technical wizardry of the highest level.
The effect this has is of calculated information overload, an effect more successful here than in BOOM because one of themes of BOOM X is how people like Miller and his four interviewees lived their lives during the great mass of things happening during this period. Some people like Howard and Annika are greatly affected by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Iron Curtain. Those living in Canada, like Miller, Brandon or Steph are not. Canadian events like FLQ crisis and the War Measures Act and the fear of Quebec separation occupy their minds. Miller leavens the whole notion of the weight of history by making the fortunes of the Montreal Expos appear to impact him as much as major historical events.
In BOOM X, Miller claims that Boomers are product oriented and Gen-Xers are process oriented although the barrage of facts and figures and the tales of Miller and his four cohorts does not seem to support this. Miller repeatedly claims that Gen-Xers are riddled with anxiety and are disaffected and directionless, but the stories of the five illustrate instead that even if they had other goals in mind when young they all found out who they were and ultimately what they wanted to do.
No one can diminish the impact of the AIDS epidemic, yet otherwise compared to the events of the past 20 years the period 1970-1995 looks positively idyllic. The misdeeds of presidents listed in BOOM X look trivial next to those of this century. The war in Vietnam ended, the Soviet Union collapsed, the Iron Curtain fell, Nelson Mandela was released from prison – the news captions that glide past in BOOM X represent the kind of good news we would dearly love to hear in our bleak post-9/11 world that seems only to get bleaker. For that reason BOOM X does not explain at all the anxiety, disaffectedness and directionlessness that Gen-Xers are supposed to suffer from. The closest Miller comes to a possible explanation is that Gen-Xers, unlike their Boomer parents, have had nothing to react against.
Like BOOM, BOOM X spends virtually all its time in presentation and very little time in interpretation. Fortunately, this problem does not matter as much in BOOM X since Miller’s own biography illustrated with family photos is foregrounded against the torrent of events passing by as he grows to adulthood. BOOM X is more of an event than anything else, an event that will make you wonder why, in the period 1970-1995 before computers dominated everyday life, greater freedom than before broke out for women, gay people, Black people and those who had lived under various oppressive regimes. In the ’70s for the first time people straight and gay and Black and White danced comfortably together to music by performers straight and gay and Black and White.
BOOM X makes us ask,“Why do we feel so much more cut off from each other now even though we are technologically so much more connected?” Compared to the periods 1945-1969 and 1995-2020, 1970-1995 appears like a time of respite which we can only hope will somehow re-emerge.
Photos: Rick Miller as Paul Simonon of The Clash, © 2019 Irina Litvinenko; Rick Miller as Mark Mothersbaugh from Devo, © 2019 Irina Litvinenko; Rick Miller as Axl Rose, © 2019 Irina Litvinenko; Rick Miller as Michael Jackson, © 2023 Dahlia Katz.
For tickets visit www.grandtheatre.com or www.crowstheatre.com