In my house, the correct answer to the question “Beatles or Stones?” is “The Kinks”; the defining event of 1969 is not the moon landing but the Tate-LaBianca murders by the Manson Family. Which is to say, and is probably said so often I might sound like a broken record, I don’t have a whole lot of interest in mainstream culture. Even if it’s from a different era.
For the Boomer generation, who are now well into retirement, the mainstream culture of their youth is what they’re now remembering fondly. Shake-ups, assassinations, fear of war, sure, but as a whole, the weird and wonderful bits of the era tend to be forgotten in favour of a sometimes idealized, sanitized collection of events.
Rick Miller’s BOOM, then, while brilliantly executed, visually breath-taking, and painstakingly researched, is the mainstream version of the Boomer story.
To be fair, he had to curate the details of 25 years worth of events (1945 – 1969) down to a 100-minute performance (and get the rights to use all the video footage and songs) and still manages to channel 100 different people (politicians, musicians, activists, artists) in his always brilliant impersonations, while even more factoids and news bits scroll across the top of a sheer fabric column that takes up most of the stage.
The column and a half-circle scrim are used as a backdrop for projection designer David Leclerc’s projections of various events, ads, and news footage throughout the performance, with Miller spending most of the show inside the column where he switches characters through quick costume changes.
Miller threads the performance with the recollections of three main characters, each linking to an issue of the era, as well as a geographical area; his Mother, from suburban Ontario represents the rise of post-war feminism; Rudi, from occupied Vienna shows the story of the aftermath of WW2 and the progression of the Cold War and the space race; and an African-American blues singer from the US mid-west ties in the civil rights movement, intertwining all three of the characters’ stories as the show moves into the late 1960s.
Working almost entirely from within the column at centre stage, Miller’s customary energy is missing here. Fans used to him bounding around the stage or even up the aisles during performances of his previous solo shows such as MacHomer, Hardsell or Bigger Than Jesus will find him more sedate. And despite the quick character changes of BOOM, the fast-paced dialogue of Miller’s previous shows is gone. Whereas Miller can whip out dialogue so fast and furious you’d swear he was reciting a Gilmore Girls episode, he slows down here and at times, depending on who or what he’s talking about, is almost reverential.
This is not necessarily a bad thing – in many cases the subject matter demands it, and he’s trying not only to be respectful of the topic, but to make the work accessible to everyone in the theatre; the intended audience for BOOM spans three generations and is considered suitable for kids 12 and up. Within BOOM’s sub-theme of circles (many of the images projected onto the circular set are also round in some way) is the circular nature of events (BOOM parallels the protests of the 60s with the Occupy movement, for instance), and the circle of life – Miller wants boomers to bring their kids and grandkids to his show and for them all to share their stories and experiences afterwards.
BOOM will definitely spur some conversations about mainstream pop culture – during the intermission the folks behind us debated Mechano versus Lincoln Logs – and if viewed as a family, is a fantastic way for older generations to share their own stories. And hopefully it will encourage boomers to go beyond its subject matter to their own, more individualized experiences to share or discuss the things Miller wasn’t able to include (kinda still bummed at no reference to Phil Spector).
Miller puts on a show that really is fun for the whole family. However, if you’re part of Charlie’s family, you might find it lacks enough weirdness to keep you interested.
BOOM plays the Panasonic Theatre until February 1st and then moves to British Colombia.