RMTC's BOOM provides dynamic look at baby boom generation
Rick Miller’s solo show doesn’t redefine boomers, but engages with visual flair and spectacular performance
BOOM is never a pandering tribute to baby boomers, but it's also never a particularly biting examination.
It's hard to argue that there hasn't already been a lot said about the baby boomers. But it's also hard to overstate the impact of the post-war generation — economically, culturally and politically.
And with his 2015 solo show BOOM, closing out the RMTC Mainstage season, Toronto-based actor-writer-director Rick Miller (still probably best remembered here for his Simpsons and Shakespeare mash-up MacHomer) finds a creative and engaging way to join that conversation, if not necessarily redefine what we know about boomers.
Which is a shame, since Miller has the advantage of being an outsider looking at the boom generation. (His parents are the boomers — he maintains he was conceived on the night Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.)
But he takes an even-handed, almost documentary approach to the subject by focusing on the stories of three people — Rudi, who grows up in post-war Austria; Maddie, raised in small-town Ontario; and Laurence, a black man born and raised in America.
Their lives eventually converge in 1960s Canada, and all provide a different vantage point on the formative years of the boomers, from the explosion of the atom bomb that ended the Second World War to the moon landing of 1969.
He also laces in snippets of song, impressively mimicking styles ranging from Perry Como to Janis Joplin. The songs sometimes feel like a slightly forced nostalgia trip, but most add resonance and cultural context to Miller's smartly paced 135-minute journey through nearly a quarter-century of history.
Along the way, he explores how the boomers responded to growing up in a world that was simultaneously one of greater abundance than ever before and under the perpetual threat of self-destruction.
Through his three central characters, we see how the boom generation defined themselves from the "contained" generation that had suffered the Depression and the war, and spawned the boomers.
And containment becomes a recurring theme in BOOM, notably in Yannik Larivée's striking set, centred around a cylindrical enclosure in which Miller performs most of the show — a sort of time capsule in which Miller explores his own family history.
The outer walls of the enclosure become a curved screen onto which David Leclerc's videos, still images and snippets of historical fact are projected. Those projections become almost another performer here, with Miller smartly interacting with videos and overdubbing famous scenes (some for laughs, like Trudeau's famous "just watch me" speech, others for great dramatic effect, like Cronkite's announcement of John F. Kennedy's death).
It gives the show tremendous visual flair which, along with Miller's masterful performance, makes it consistently intriguing.
It may not be explosive in its insights into the baby boom generation, but it is deeper, and more resonant, than a simple retrospective of the boomers' greatest hits.
BOOM runs at the Royal MTC's John Hirsch Mainstage until May 21.