— Rick Miller. Photo: David Leclerc
Kicking off this year’s PuSh Festival in conjunction with the Arts Club, Rick Miller’s BOOM is a one-man Baby Boomer history, a chronological journey from 1945 to 1969 bookended by the booms of the Hiroshima A-bomb and the Apollo launch to the moon. Writing, directing and acting, Miller proves an impressive performer and entertaining tour guide. But the point of the journey is never entirely clear.
Miller has set the bar pretty high for himself with tour de force solo shows like MacHomer, in which he played Homer Simpson performing all the parts in Macbeth, and Bigger Than Jesus, a fabulously surreal take on Christianity. He’s also collaborated with Robert Lepage, and his designers share some of Lepage’s visual wizardry. BOOM shows flashes of brilliance on all those scores but left me wanting more—especially more pushing (PuShing) of the Boomer envelope.
BOOM is structured around three Boomer characters to whom we’re introduced at the beginning, and whose lives we follow through the years until they come together at the University of Toronto in the late ‘60s. One is Miller’s mother, the other two are men: a Viennese immigrant and a black Chicago bluesman. Miller embodies them from inside a large cylinder—a kind of time capsule—on the outside of which we also see them via projected photographs.
Miller also voices a large number of historical figures, from Churchill and Kennedy to Martin Luther King and Pierre Trudeau (yes Virginia, there is Canadian content), as well as TV shows and ads, and singers from Perry Como and Joni Mitchell to Mick Jagger and Janis Joplin (The Soundtrack of Our Lives redux). Sometimes he performs a kind of karaoke, lipsynching along with video projections. At other times he voices over a still photo. Along with the projected images, a bit of techno-magic creates shadow people that enable Miller to perform multiple characters at once.
There are definite themes to his version of the postwar era: the Cold War, Civil Rights, the space race, women’s roles, TV, rock ‘n’ roll. And some terrific high points: a very funny imaginary conversation between Nixon and JFK about their presidential debate, scenes from I Love Lucy and a Looney Tunes cartoon, Miller’s Joe Cocker rendition.
But besides the chronology, the show has no real shape. And it provides no revelations. The three personal profiles offer some coherence but are not essential to the historical context and vice versa, even though there are obvious connections. Ultimately, BOOM presents a nostalgic checklist of things we already know: Kennedy assassination—check; Summer of Love—check; Expo ’67—check. And the Pill and Dylan and Malcolm X (yes Virginia, Boomer culture is mostly American culture). The pleasures of nostalgia are based precisely on their familiarity and predictability, qualities you wouldn’t expect to be high on the checklists of Rick Miller or PuSh.