Nothing defines a generation like its music.
Someday, folks my age might reminisce about Taylor Swift or Lizzo. For the generation above me, it’s the Spice Girls, Justin Timberlake, and Britney Spears. With each new crop of humans comes a new batch of iconography, a sparkling collection of shared cultural references which shape a generation’s aesthetics and tastes.
For actor and architect Rick Miller, those references are everything, the day-glo legends of the ‘70s and ‘80s as well as the political events which catalyzed them: Jimi Hendrix, Queen, and Michael Jackson, and so many more.
To start off the night, Miller introduces us to the conceit of this show, the second in an existing trilogy about real people and the music that shapes them. Boom is about Miller’s parents, who are Baby Boomers (and one can assume it comes with a heavy dose of Elvis). Boom YZ, then, is about the generation of Miller’s daughters. Boom X falls right between the two and traces the trajectory of Miller’s life, both musically and personally, using interview fragments from close friends and family members to bolster the show’s sprawling narrative from the late 60s to mid-90s.
The good: Miller’s a compelling presence onstage, with a knack for impressions and evident musical talent. His set (which he designed, with help on projections from Nicolas Dostie and Irina Litvinenko) smartly incorporates projections and puppetry to build a sumptuous world of pop culture, from Star Wars-style opening credits to oh-so-quotable scenes from Gen X movies and TV shows. Miller has carefully curated a playlist of ‘80s bangers and ballads, and the night I attended, folks in the audience hummed along enthusiastically, calling out bands as they appeared and cheering Miller on in his nostalgic romp through a complex few decades in world history.
The more complicated: Miller, who grew up in Quebec with several European expat family members, has a very specific viewpoint of the world (as do we all). His oral history includes quite a few Quebec-specific history lessons and cultural allusions, and those portions of the play are fascinating and evidently close to Miller’s heart. When Miller attempts to generalize, expanding to include a much vaster portrait of the world in the ‘80s, the show occasionally loses focus — the most compelling portions circle around Miller and the people around him, and I often found myself itching to get back to a central narrative, rather than a cramped world history lesson strung together by power ballads.
That issue of focus also manifests itself in the show’s running time, a long two-and-a-bit hours including intermission. Boom X has moments of excellence and Miller’s a gifted performer, but the material seems better suited to a 60- or 70-minute one-act, with fewer songs and a more laser-focused narrative thrust.
If you grew up with the same music as Miller, this show’s sure to be a hoot — I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not this one’s intended audience. For me, there are obvious cuts that would lead to a tighter, more gripping dramatic narrative, but as the piece stands, it’s a low-stakes good time at the theatre — with sick guitar solos to match.
Boom X runs at Crow’s through May 28. Tickets are available here.
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