Is Boom more flash than substance? It may seem churlish to ask that question, given the undeniable
vitality and creativity that have gone into Rick Miller’s panoramic look at the Boomer generation over a quarter century of change.
Indeed, in his capacity as writer, director and performer, Miller does secure his credentials as a mercurial and engaging presence as he whips us through the decades. So Boom is an achievement of sorts — and definitely a collective one.
That often translucent pillar dominating the stage of the NAC Theatre is essential to the multi-media impact of a carefully planned entertainment in which state-of-the art projections and a seductive soundscape integrate with Miller’s own endlessly shifting persona to evoke the shapes and textures of another era.
Yannik Larivee (set, costumes and props), Creighton Doane (composer and sound designer) and David Leclerc (projections) are essential components in a show framed by two historically significant bookends —
the dropping of the first atom bomb on Hiroshima in 1945 and the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. The contribution of lighting designer Bruno Matte is more problematic, ranging from the unwelcome extremes of a piercing white light, which has you shutting your eyes against the glare whenever it appears, to badly lit projections that are rather like watching a drive-in movie through a dirty windshield.
It’s Miller’s mercurial presence that seeks to provide the essential glue. The moments in time he provides are largely predictable — the Cold War, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the Cuban missile crisis, the rock and roll phenomenon, the advent of the Pill, the consumer culture — so you hope, usually in vain, for fresh insights into our recent history. But Miller remains a clever and winning companion as he invites us along on his historical
romp. There are some wonderful set-piece moments — for example, the hilarious arrival of the magnified image of a Chef Boyardee can testifies to Miller’s capacity for mischief. And Miller is also attracted to comic irony: witness that famous news snippet in which Fidel Castro assures a gullible Ed Sullivan that under him Cuba will
be a democracy. Furthermore, if our attention droops, Miller is always there to win us back with another of his real-life character impressions.
But is this supported in any way by an over-arching historical perspective? Miller does supply an narrative thread of sorts,
involving his Ontario-born mother, Madeline, an Austrian immigrant named Rudy, and an African-American draft dodger named Laurence — but this aspect of the show is somewhat tenuous. Miller seems more interested in using some of the devices of Jon Stewart’s old Tonight show in employing images and sound bites to complement his own vision
of an evolving, political, social and economic culture — but shouldn’t it seem more than just clever and facile?
Boom’s real inclination leans toward global history, and its Canadian content emerges as almost token. As for its attempts to link Quebec’s Quiet Revolution or the fate of Canada’s fabled Avro Arrow to the larger world — well, let’s just say the show is on dubious ground here.
For many, the chief lure of the evening will be the chance to see Miller display his considerable talents at impersonation. But surely one hallmark of a good impressionist is to have enough sense to steer clear of people who may defeat his efforts to imitate them. Miller’s take-off on Janis Joplin, for example, is eerily persuasive, but he’s way off the mark with Perry Como who unfortunately is offered to us as the evening’s first example of Miller’s skills. And although Miller
certainly masters the cadences of Pierre Trudeau, he’s far less convincing with two other former prime ministers — Canada’s Louis St. Laurent and Britain’s Harold Macmillan.
But the visuals and the impersonations, the sight gags and the song fragments, move so swiftly that perhaps such quibbles shouldn’t matter. Perhaps, also, we should celebrate Boom’s main strength as fodder for the Tweet generation — perhaps even as solace for those afflicted with attention deficit disorder. Indeed, perhaps the style and structure of this show indicate that Miller has spotted something about today’s pop culture, and the people who embrace it, that
traditionalists will have trouble acknowledging.
Boom Written, directed and performed by Rick Miller
National Arts Centre Theatre to March 12.
Sound and compositions………………….Creighton Doane
Set, costumes, props………………………Yannik Larivée