Kidoons & WYRD Productions, in association with Crow’s Theatre, Theatre Calgary & The 20K Collective/BOOM X, written, directed and performed by Rick Miller, Guloien Theatre, Streetcar Crowsnest, May 10 to May 28. Tickets here.
Before saying anything else, we should point out that Rick Miller also functions as set and sound designer and production manager. BOOM X is a one-man show on steroids.
First, we have to set the production in context. BOOM X is the middle part of Miller’s BOOM Trilogy. Part One, BOOM, deals with the Baby Boomers or Miller’s parents’ generation. BOOM X, this play, focuses on the GenXers, or Miller’s own generation, while BOOM YZ is all about Miller’s daughter’s generation, or the Millennials.
Just how does he do it?
There is a projection screen in the middle, upon which are lines of news items like a running tickertape. This keeps the audience abreast of all the news that happened between 1970 and 1995. So BOOM X is a history lesson.
Then, there are the plethora of videos and still photography, both personal and public, that also flash across the screen. Embedded in these are video sequences with four GenXers — Howard, Stephanie, Annika and Brandon — who are, apparently, real people, and who epitomize the period in question. We hear about their life and times, and by the end of the show, we know how each is connected to Miller.
Miller also appears on either side of the screen to give ongoing narration, and behind the screen to evoke musicians of the day with snippets of songs by the likes of Alanis Morrisette, Bob Marley and the brothers Gibb. For each iconic singer, he sports an appropriate wig and costume, as well as playing the appropriate guitar.
Now, while the videos of people, including the four main characters, appear on the screen, Miller does all the voices. We see Richard Nixon and Pierre Trudeau, and Steph and Brandon, but we hear Miller. Similarly, he imitates the singers. So male, female, famous or unknown, it’s all Miller in terms of voicing and singing. As the program says, Miller plays 100 characters in 100 minutes.
Thus, through news, songs, and stories, we see a capsule view of 25 momentous years. Miller claims that the polarization that infects our present society began there, and he might have a point.
For those of us older or the same age as Miller, we live again through the passing parade he presents. It’s a trip down memory lane with both the good, the bad and the ugly. For those younger than Miller, it is lessons learned in the hope that history won’t repeat itself.
So what is BOOM X in terms of definition? First, it is a dazzling multimedia production that unfolds in breathtaking speed. Second, it is a show that is rich in ideas and images. BOOM X is also thought-provoking because, while watching and listening, you can’t help thinking about how we got from there to here, through both good times and bad. It is a cautionary tale that provides the background for our present state of chaos and confusion.
Miller, apparently, has toured this show around the world since its premiere in Calgary in 2019. In fact, just before the Toronto fun, he was in Taiwan where the news ticker tape was in Mandarin, and chosen for the specifics of a Taiwanese audience. In other words, BOOM X becomes tailor-made for audiences wherever they are in the world, which is, quite frankly, amazing. Miller, it seems, is also a linguist.
The most obvious takeaway from BOOM X is the uber-talented Miller himself, who conceived the show and is the only live performer. His evocation of famous musicians, both visually and vocally, is uncanny. His impressions of famous people is awesome. His choice of what news and images to present is brilliant. Clearly, he is a deep thinker of epic proportions.
So, what to say about BOOM X. Ambitious is a word that comes to mind. Clearly, it is a production that has sprung from the mind of a visionary historian who is also a social philosopher and an internationalist. As well, Miller is the fastest quick change artist ever, not to mention a talented mimic.
And my final thought? Bring on BOOM and BOOM YZ. Rick Miller and his creative team have created shows that are Entertainment with a capital E.
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