Review: "Boom X" with Theatre Calgary

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Joe Szekeres, Chief Toronto Critic

Serendipity or the theatre gods must have been at work when I was in Montreal in mid February and saw that Rick Miller was in previews for his production of ‘Boom X’ at the Segal Centre. Back in 2008 when I was still teaching before retirement, I had attended a performance of Rick’s MacHomer: The Simpsons Do Macbeth at Toronto’s Massey Hall, was captivated by his vocal prowess and thought, “Here’s my hook for kids” to get into Shakespeare’s play of witchcraft and murder since the television series was at its’ height of popularity. I met Rick after the show and learned he also performed a condensed version of the play to high school students.

Alas, personal family circumstances did not allow me to continue booking him to my school but I never forgot about Rick Miller and how much I was blown away by the clear, vocal accuracy of the famous animated characters performing the Scottish play.

I knew about ‘Boom X’ (the second of a hopefully three-part trilogy with ‘Boom’ as the first) as I had seen it advertised in Toronto but never got a chance to attend the production. I saw Mr. Miller again at the opening night of a Centaur Theatre production in Montreal where I approached him, introduced myself, and told him of the connection ten years earlier. Now that I am retired, I told him I am the chief Toronto critic for Onstage Blog and would he like a review for Boom X?  His response, ‘Absolutely’.

And boy, oh boy, am I ever pleased I took the chance to approach him. ‘Boom X’ is a sensationally terrific production for the eyes and the ears. This performance was an extra treat that I got to see Rick Miller perform in his home town of Montreal.

The Sylvan Adams Theatre at the Segal Centre is an intimate setting which offers excellent sightlines to the floor. For me, ‘Boom X’ worked well in this environment as I had a good view of the playing area from my seat since the entire stage wasn’t on a raised dais. Two guitars are placed on the stage. Three see through scrims allow for remarkably captured video projections of world events from the 70s, 80s and 90s that ran like ‘ticker tape’ news bits while Miller performed as singing legends such as Neil Young, Bob Marley, and Bob Dylan.   There was a raised platform centre stage behind the scrim which allows for Miller to be seen from all angles in the house.

At the top of the show, Mr. Miller comes out to speak to us briefly before the performance begins. Periodically throughout the show, he tells us a bit about his childhood, his family, and his interests in music and television. Although I was born a late baby boomer, I grew up listening to the music, watching the same shows, and hearing the same music from the 70s, 80s and 90s so I felt an immediate connection.

Miller makes ample use of the entire stage during the production. I didn’t realize until the performance began that a camera is placed just slightly off-centre stage left where he faces it for dramatic effect as a member of KISS or a slight comic homage to Star Wars fans everywhere. What worked nicely for me were those bits when Rick tells about the four individuals who had influenced the genesis and growth of ‘Boom X’ to where it is today. We see the projection of the people, but Rick vocalizes these four different individuals and times the voice accurately to the person projected. Very clever work indeed.

Some highlights for me during the production: I loved some of the commercials from the 70s and Rick brought their memory back to me.  “My baloney has a first name…it’s O.S.C.A.R.”.  Another one for Life cereal – “I’m not gonna try it, you try it. Let’s get Mikey. He won’t eat it. He hates everything. He likes it. Hey, Mikey.” His impersonations of The Guess Who’s ‘American Woman’, Michael Crawford’s ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ and the Bee Gees ‘Staying Alive’ were impeccable.

I believe it was important that reference was also made to the tumultuous race relations of the 70s, and I remember them quite well. I was also pleased that Miller referred to the famous ‘All in the Family’ episode where Sammy Davis Jr. visits the Bunkers and plants a kiss on bigot Archie’s cheek. The only slight quibble I had at that moment was the fact that I couldn’t hear Miller’s vocalizations of the late Messrs. Davis and O’Connor at the back of the house. Many of the audience members around me were my age and smiled or laughed in seeing this famous televised moment so hopefully they too weren’t let down albeit briefly.

Final Comments: After seeing ‘Boom X’, I am even more convinced how important the actor and performer’s voice is to his and her chosen vocation as a storyteller. Given the right performer with the right material and the right voice, a ‘one person show’ will be fantastic.

Under Milkwood by Dylan Thomas (called a ‘play for voices’) was a glorious performance by Kenneth Welsh in 2008 at Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre where he magnificently captured more than fifty unique individuals that kept the audience spellbound. I attended Damien Atkins’ extraordinary We Are Not Alone at Toronto Crow’s Theatre in January of this year where he deftly captured for me through his voice(s) the possibility of other worldly visitors and the realization that perhaps we are not alone after all.

I place Rick Miller as the third member of this illustrious triumvirate with ‘Boom X’.

‘Boom X’ continues to March 10, 2019 in the Sylvan Adams Theatre, Segal Centre for the Performing Arts, 5170 Chemin Cote-Ste-Catherine, Montreal, Quebec. For tickets, visit www.segalcentre.org or contact the Box Office at (514) 739-7944. You may also visit the official site at BoomShow.ca.

The production runs approximately 130 minutes including one intermission of 20 minutes.

Executive Producer: Jeff Lord; Lighting Designer/Production Manager: Bruno Matte/ Video & Projection Co-Designers: Nicolas Dostie and Irina Litvinenko; Costumes and Props Designer: Virginie Leclerc; Stage Manager/Dramaturg: Craig Francis; Set & Sound Designer/Composer: Rick Miller; Assistant Production Manager: Aidan Ware.

Photo of Rick Miller taken from www.BoomShow.ca.