Review: “BOOM X” transcends age and era in musical retrospective

Rick Miller returns to the Segal Centre with sequel to hit show "BOOM"

Rick Miller in “BOOM X” (Photo by Irina Litvinenko)

Amusicamagicamazing” is back.

After a successful run of his solo show BOOM in 2016, the Dora and Gemini award-winning Rick Miller returns to home turf to present the Montreal premiere of his latest theatrical tour-de-force, a new touring production now being staged at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts by Kidoons and Wyrd Productions in association with Theatre Calgary and The 20K Collective.

Picking up where the hit prequel left off, BOOM X is the second instalment in a trilogy of standalone spectacles (the series is bookended with a forthcoming piece on millennials, tentatively titled “BOOM Z”, now in its early stages of development). Featuring writer/director/performer Miller as himself – and one hundred other voiced characters – the one-man wonder packs twenty-five years of history and pop culture into a two-hour, two-act musical retrospective on Generation X.

For some, thus, it proves a nostalgic trip down and through the years from 1969 to 1995; for others, it serves as a rapid-fire review of (or an informative introduction to) the times; for the masses, BOOM X is a multimedia marvel of the stage that transcends age and era.

(Photo by Irina Litvinenko)

With explosive gait, BOOM X highlights the milestone events, key figures, and iconography that defined a generation – one jolted by the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the AIDS epidemic, and a series of economic crises. A scrolling news ticker chronologically presents the international and local headlines of a quarter-century as Miller transforms into a cargo of characters from behind a scrim, swiftly shifting from one snapshot segment to another.

A mix of recorded and live video are projected onto a cylindrical “time capsule” of sorts, screening images of the beloved films, TV shows, ads, and video games of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s (Monty Python, Jaws, M*A*S*H, Star Wars, Smurfs, Pac-Man, and Apollo 13 are among the mentions). The evolution of music is tied in with excerpts of thirty chart-topping songs in rock, punk, disco, new wave, and grunge (Queen, Bob Marley, KISS, The Bee Gees, and Andrew Lloyd Webber all make their appearances).

In a format similar to that of its prequel, BOOM X then interweaves impressive impersonations of celebrities from the worlds of politics, sports, and entertainment with re-enacted interviews with some of Miller’s own personal and life-shaping acquaintances. Their individual coming-of-age accounts as Gen X-ers navigating through turbulent times humanize what could otherwise perhaps be a dizzying, sugary, cotton candy swirl of light and sound. Special focus on the stories of Quebec also further engages our Montreal audience. The unique concept, clever writing, and meticulous execution amount to a palatable treat for the eyes and ears that is entertaining as it can be thought-provoking.

(Photo by Irina Litvinenko)

Technology is integral to the appeal of BOOM X, for a picture is here indeed worth a thousand words (and feelings), but a hybrid of high and low tech effects make for a compelling audiovisual creation that is as theatrical as it is cinematic, and rather resourceful in its craft. Whimsical cardboard and costume pieces, for one, are among the scrappy elements. The spirit of live stage play is wonderfully preserved (and reinforced through the fourth-wall breaking), pointing to greater themes of our fundamental need for human connection – both with the self and the other.

The production could very much be stripped bare of its shimmering spectacle, however, and still beguile due to the manifold talents of Rick Miller. With consummate showmanship, he narrates, acts, dances, sings, plays instruments, and boldly embodies famous figures from Trudeau to Thatcher, Tina Turner to Alanis Morissette. Not all of the impressions are spot on, granted, but that’s beside the point – his demonstrated control, versatility, consistency, musicality, and range of expression in storytelling are a performer’s master class. The vocal and physical work is an astonishing feat in both artistry and athleticism. Miller is stage presence personified, and his electric energy never wanes .

(Photo by Irina Litvinenko)

Perhaps the most poignant aspect of BOOM X, however, is its potential to foster dialogues between generations, bridging perceived gaps and differences in our personal struggles, fears, desires, and dreams. The challenge of adapting to changing times, the reality of media-enabled escapism, and the rebellion of youth are not exclusive to any singular group. There is a commonality in experiences to be reflected on, and history may just be more cyclical than we would think it to be. Post-show talkbacks are graciously held after every performance to ignite these conversations.

The charming, lightweight sequel – consumable as a standalone piece – is a particular joy for pop culture junkies, but digestible for broad audiences. Solo shows don’t get any slicker. We eagerly await the final and third instalment.

A Kidoons and Wyrd Productions presented in association with Theatre Calgary and The 20K Collective at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts

Performances: February 14th to March 10th, 2019
Venue: 5170 Côte-Ste-Catherine, Montreal, H3W 1M7
Admission: CAD $32-53 (Student/Senior/Under 30 discounts available)
 Box Office: (514) 739-7944 |

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