Performer gives voice to a whole generation
Multimedia show makes more than surface impression
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/04/2016 (2302 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Because of his often uncanny vocal impersonations, playwright/director/actor Rick Miller has been described as successor to fellow Canadian impressionist Rich Little.
Boom, Miller’s one-man show that closes RMTC’s season, ought to put any such damning-with-faint-praise comparisons to rest. Miller’s famous fringe show MacHomer demonstrated his facility for mimicry in a fun-filled mashup of Shakespeare and The Simpsons that was still miles removed from Little’s Vegas-style, celeb-o-phile shtick.
Boom, um, explodes the comparison altogether with a multimedia show in which impersonation takes a back seat to story.
That story is the stuff of sprawling saga, nothing less than a history of the baby-boom years between 1945 and 1969, told through the experiences of three people from vastly different backgrounds. (Its running time is about two hours and 15 minutes with intermission, not including a nightly talkback.)
Significantly, none of these individuals is famous. When he casually takes to the stage, Miller introduces us to them via video images: his Ontario-born mother; a genial Austrian playboy (one wonders if Miller couldn’t resist the temptation to make him sound like Christoph Waltz); and a hard-living African-American blues musician.
The juxtaposition of the trio seems a little odd, rather like an assemblage of disparate suspects in an Agatha Christie mystery. But as we hear their origins, it starts to make perfect sense, as each interviewee (Miller supplies their voices) tells his or her stories. Their biographies encompass the prickly geopolitics of postwar Europe, the cycle of conformity and rebellion in North America, and the civil-rights battles fought everywhere from India to the American South.
It’s all enhanced by excellent multimedia on a set designed by Yannik Larivée that’s suggestive of a giant top hat, a transparent cylinder at centre stage rising from a curved brim on which an array of images are vividly projected.
Yes, Miller uses music in the show to illuminate the cultural transitions of the era, but it’s best not to expect his usual uncanny standards in the 100 or so voices he takes on here. This might be a function of vocal strain: His Perry Como is unrecognizable, but his Bob Dylan is pretty good. His Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd doing opera is excellent. (One suspects Miller could have nailed Tom Waits, but alas, that artist’s career didn’t break until 1972.)
Miller gratuitously fills in the vocal blanks when we see footage of Walter Cronkite announcing the death of John F. Kennedy or Edward R. Murrow editorializing against Joe McCarthy. It’s much more fun seeing him put his own words in the mouth of Pierre Elliott Trudeau that playfully spin on the contemporary reality of another Trudeau in the PMO.
It all amounts to a big, bold, ambitious summary of an era that goes beyond a shopping list of events. Miller thoughtfully contextualizes mid-20th-century culture and history into a rich tapestry in which it’s all too easy to forgive the occasional dropped thread.
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.
Updated on Saturday, April 30, 2016 10:01 AM CDT: Miller’s mother was born in Ontario.