Rick Miller is like the wizard who stands in a maelstrom of visions he is conjuring with a waving wand. What’s impressive is that he doesn’t need the wand.
The 46-year-old actor whips up 100 personalities from between 1945 and 1969, imitating their voices. With his posture, gestures, and the help of a wig or hat that he jettisons into the wings as he changes them, he invokes their physical qualities. Meanwhile, he is also narrator and commentator.
Copa de Oro and the Segal Centre co-present this eye-popping one-man show, which concluded on April 10th. What makes it even more special is that this highly charged performer directs his own script and bases three core characters on people from his life.
In this way, the audience can relate to the context of the myriad historical events.
Miller’s personal roles include his mother, who was an Ontario hippie in her earlier years, his father, who emigrated from Austria in search of the North American dream, and Laurence, a black friend of his mother’s living in Chicago with a feisty granny who has her own take on the civil rights movement.
Miller’s mother refused to participate in interviews for the play, so the woman in the introductory video is really his wife’s aunt. Laurence is portrayed in the initial video by the wonderful Ardon Bess.
After the video introduction, for which Miller supplies the voices, he physically adopts their characters, distinguishable through European and black American accents and the gender of the female role.
None of the three are remarkable, but that’s the point. Our lives, like theirs, were affected by the currents of society within the tides of history.
Miller’s father recalls the Nazi flag hanging in his Grade 2 classroom, and giving Russian soldiers a tour of his city when he was seven in 1945. Famous names and personifications flip by in a head-spinning Rolodex of who’s who, starting from the end of World War II, as the baby boomer generation is born, reflected in photos from Miller’s family album.
Set and costume designer Yannik Larivée rates instant kudos, since his tube-like fabric scrim provides the framework on which David Leclerc projects historical footage, from the A-bomb to the Beatles.
A crescent moon platform cleverly becomes a spinning record, a row of falling cause-and-effect dominoes and Viewmaster slides, all thanks again to projections that give vitality to this show’s multimedia configuration.
With lighting designer Bruno Matte’s genius, the scrim is also the surface for Miller’s talents as a shadow-theatre performer. His backlit black two-dimensional image recreates a cigar-chomping Winston Churchill and other characters.
Using a different effect, an overhead spot blots out his facial features so that he also transforms into Janis Joplin, Hank Williams and other musical figures while singing the soundtrack of the times and playing a range of musical instruments.
Miller’s salute to women, with believable vocalizations, sees them journey from making war materials to making babies and then embracing liberation.
Consumerism reflects beliefs. Younger audience members will be startled by real TV advertisements of doctors touting Camel cigarettes and dogs being rubbed with deadly pesticides to prevent fleas. A lesson in dialing a rotary phone seems ludicrous today.
As you’ll be prompted to observe, how times have changed!
It’s all palatably educational while remaining entertaining. Miller did a similar turn in a 17-year international tour of MacHomer in which he voiced the entire cast of the cartoon Simpsons to interpret Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
In Boom, world history and our place in it are made just as accessible. Most admirable is Miller’s unabated ability to give his all at every moment. During the Q-and-A after each of his shows, his battery remains at full power and the audience can only marvel.