Review: “Boom” at Theatre Calgary

Vicki Trask

  • Calgary Critic

First the facts; and then the story.

I attended the matinee performance of “Boom” presented by Theatre Calgary on Saturday October 22nd to a nearly full house accompanied by boisterous applause. This two-act performance casts Rick Miller as writer, director, and performer;  as well as every character, every song, every event in history from 1945-1969 (otherwise known as: The Baby Boomer Era). Told by three different characters with three different stories, we are transported back to a pivotal time in our world’s history. It’s a time of great change and progress; when a jazz-playing black man, a socially progressive woman, and a Viennese boy with big dreams of American life, all come together in Toronto (that’s in Ontario, for my American readers). We follow Rick as he hears their stories and re-enacts their tales of tragedy and triumph, all leading up to his own conception as the Apollo rocket brought the world into a whole new era. 

To call this show a “journey of self-discovery” would be a gross understatement. Rick gives such a unique performance in both conception and energy. Though he’s technically alone on that stage, there is never a dull moment. The man doesn’t slow down long enough to take a breath and yet his deliberate transitions and character choices are so well choreographed that I didn’t even realize how fast he was going until the ride was almost over. We’re bombarded with information, both auditory and visual, for the entire two hour journey.

Don’t mistake me: I was totally swept up in the story. It’s one I think we’ve all heard in one incarnation or another. A child asks their parent to tell them about what life was like “back then”. I expected something akin to Forrest Gump, telling us about what his “mamma used to say” but instead of a box of chocolates, we get an endless parade of history and culture told through classic songs and genuine storytelling. While this is a Canadian play, set and performed in Canada, no one can deny the inescapable influence the United States had on Canadian culture post-WWII. I was glad to see that Rick didn’t shy away from telling not only the Canadian story, but also the North American story – and the World story.

Each character took on their own physicality and voice which brought forth emotion along with its expected nostalgia. I must applaud Rick for his celebrity – and just general vocal – impressions. I overheard some of the audience members talking during intermission and they expressed such satisfaction with his work so I can only assume that that he was on point. Alas, I was not alive for any of the events portrayed in this show and yet I remember hearing about them as a child.

That’s right, I’m a part of Generation Y which means I’ve heard all the stories but dismissed them as being so far in the past that they couldn’t possibly apply now; but that’s not quite true, is it? It was fascinating and all too amusing to watch what was my grandparent’s generation talk about the same attitudes, the same philosophies, and injustices that we’re dealing with today. Rick discusses at length how we will inevitably grow up to be our parents and how that’s not a bad thing. I admit, there was a time when I dreaded becoming like my parents – until I realized that I was, in fact, turning into my mother – then I realized that it’s okay to see the flaws, and see the similarities, as long as you learn and grown from it. That’s what I saw in “Boom”.

Something I really liked about this show is that it encouraged interaction. There were moments when the audience sang along, the lobby housed a working jukebox that played songs from the era, and there was a timeline that covered the entire lobby where audience members were encouraged to add their own life events to the wall (I even added a note to the timeline, see if you can find which one belongs to me). Open discussion and general audience participation is exactly what this show is about in my mind. It’s about stories – not history, that’s just where the stories take place – so I was so glad to see Rick ask the audience to talk about their experiences before and after the show. It gave every aspect of the performance a personal touch.

With shows like “Boom”, our history – our culture – is laid out before us on stage and it’s our job as an audience member to observe and understand the lives of the previous generation. 

I found Boom to be both eye-opening and entertaining as a performance and I encourage everyone, no matter your age, to take in this show which is playing until October 29th down at the Max Bell Theatre.