Skip To Content
Photo from Rick Miller's Facebook page.

BOOM! starts with a bang and ends with a whimper

By Joseph Hutt on March 1, 2016

Joseph is busy, busy, busy, but always looking for new opportunities to apply and develop his talents. He reviews for Apt613 and OnStage Ottawa, writes for the Kitchissippi Times, and is slowly compiling a portfolio of his published works on his website at cuppajoebooks.com.

Kidoons’ and WYRD’s production of BOOM, written by and starring Rick Miller, is a theatrical, musical tour through the baby boom years. The show is a mixture of quality multimedia projections and immersive storytelling. Starting from 1945 and going all the way to 1969, Miller narrates the lives, stories, and pop culture icons of three individuals (his mother from Scarborough, his mother’s lover from Chicago, and his father from Vienna) whose lives come to intersect in the midst of the baby boom.

The most impressive aspect of Miller’s method of storytelling is the fact that he lends his own voice to tell the stories that come from three very different perspectives. His impersonations are actually so convincing that, despite knowing that this was going to happen, I was actually fooled for a few moments into thinking that his mother’s voice was actually a prerecording, his timing was so well rehearsed.

12400639_934363606617845_6592467811081013427_nNext to his voicing and ability to impersonate, the production values of this performance are incredible and on par with Miller’s own talents. With the help of “state­-of-­the-­art designers in the Quebec City studio of legendary theatrical genius Robert Lepage,” BOOM offers a highly varied visual representation of these 24 years of rapid social and technological advancement, from light play to minor animation to some impressive projected art.

One of the technical drawbacks to the how the multimedia and light effects work against the curved screen, however, is that you really want to be dead centre as far as seating is concerned. My seat was only a dozen to the right of centre, and I still found a number of the effects to be obscured and less effective.

What I was able to see, I certainly liked. Personally, I’m a sucker for shadow play and so watching Miller’s silhouette boogieing behind the screen as he impersonated this famous singer or that was a treat for the eyes.

However, these particular impersonations themselves were also hit and miss. His early crooners (like Perry Como) and jazz/blues musicians (like Fats Domino) were pretty spot on, and added to the interesting and developing ambiance of the boomer years. It was interesting to listen to the major milestones that led popular music from a quiet almost classical form to become something far more energetic and rebellious.

However, his later impressions, such as Janis Joplin and Mik Jagger, just didn’t quite hit the mark, either visually nor vocally.

Also, some of the events covered in Miller’s narrative just seemed to lack the emotional impact that you’d expect them to have, that’s if they’re even given more attention than just a bit of scrolling text across the projection screen. This is possibly a consequence of the reminiscent, nostalgic, and descriptive nature of his narratives. In a number of cases, Miller seems to just giving presenting us with just a time­line of events, as opposed to delving into the emotional and troubling implications that many of these events had.

Admittedly, there’s only so much that you can cover in two hours, but Miller’s choice to put more of a focus on the trappings of the boom era, as opposed to the meat of it, makes his stories a little less resonant. While cigarettes, television and automobiles were certainly major game changers in this era of technological development, they just kind of become the loose threads that tie his larger narratives together. The invention of cigarettes simply allows Miller’s uncle to use them as a prop as his storyline continues on, without being particularly important in and of themselves.

It’s possible that this serves to tap into the nostalgia of baby boomers in the audience, this sense of “…and remember when this happened? And then this?”, allowing for the audience’s own memories to supplement what is being acted out.

On the other hand, working with three disparate narratives may have allowed Miller to more easily knit these stories together that may have seemed disjointed otherwise. To be sure, Miller nails the art of the transition when in this production, drifting from one narrative to the next with a perfect, natural fluidity, which is never the easiest thing to manage.

Perhaps some of my comments can be written off as my current lack of that nostalgic urge that seems to be the root of this production, but I think some of this can also be put down to the fact that, when the play winds down, we realize that, aside from nostalgia, what ties this whole performance together is Miller himself. As soon as this is revealed, the show seems a touch less profound, it becomes more personal and less universal. This isn’t a story about us or the baby boomers, about the world that we’ve inherited, about the various impacts of all these inventions and revolutions of thought, it’s a story about Miller himself.

I enjoyed myself during this production. Production values and tech skill that went into this were impressive, and Miller nails some elements of storytelling, through oration and through media, that are hard to get right. Altogether, he spins you along on an interesting ride. I think this is a show that will be enjoyed most by nostalgic baby boomers and people who don’t already have a textbook knowledge of era, but don’t expect any extraordinary reveals.

BOOM runs at the National Arts Centre until March 12th. Tickets are available online or at the NAC Box Office, and start at $25.

Advertisement: