It would seem that my being born in 1961 makes me a “baby boomer,” or more specifically, a “late boomer,” having entered this world on the tail end of the well-documented 1946-1964 post-World War II population explosion. Being a part of this demographic isn’t something I’ve given much thought to, although that certainly can’t be said of director/actor/playwright Rick Miller, whose one-man production BOOM covers the time period in two humorous, thought-provoking, and delightful hours at 59E59 Theaters.
1946: SLIDE–12 Nazi leaders sentenced to death by hanging in Nuremberg trials
1946: SLIDE–4 African-Americans are lynched by a white mob near Atlanta, GA
Employing an impressive array of voices and mannerisms, and only sometimes augmented with a wig or article of clothing, Miller as “Narrator” impersonates numerous performers, personalities, and politicians of the era, voicing every commercial and even dubs his own parents in short video clips at the very beginning of the piece. “100 voices. 25 years. 1 man,” the publicity statement declares, and Miller doesn’t disappoint.
When not impersonating the myriad of characters that adorn his story, Miller moves the play along through his portrayal of his mother Maddie as a younger woman, then as her one-time lover Laurence and lastly as Miller’s eventual father, Rudi, a German immigrant, before he and Maddie met and married. Laurence’s struggles as a black man in a time when racial parity was not the norm is particularly poignant in comparison to Maddie and Rudi’s more privileged white existence.
1948: SLIDE–UN signs Declaration of Human Rights
1948: SLIDE–Apartheid imposed in South Africa
Covering the music, politics and social trends of the baby boomer age, Miller cleverly uses lights and projections in real time, making lightning fast yet seemingly effortless transitions between characters. His impersonations are as detailed and enjoyable as the characters he’s portraying.
1950: SLIDE–the first “Peanuts” comic strip
1951: SLIDE–Eva Perón – Evita – dies of cancer, age 33
In one particular instance Miller impersonates Rudi impersonating JFK, then Rudi defers to Miller to finish the JFK impersonation saying, “Hey, you’re good with imitations, you do it.” This triple-layered impersonation was a delightful wink to the audience and another tip of the hat to Miller.
Throughout this multimedia historical review, slides are presented, reminding us of significant events of the time period, many humorous but others quite sobering.
1957: SLIDE–US suffers 1st combat fatality in Vietnam
1958: SLIDE–Peace Symbol is created
The transitions between young Maddie, young Rudi and Laurence as well as the other numerous bits and characters of history are so fast that it’s not always clear who knows whom and who is talking to whom. My sharper theater companion was able to keep it all straight but it might have been beneficial for the lower common denominators in the audience if the script to occasionally reiterated names and nouns in place of pronouns just to keep the audience on track during the frenetic pace of the show. Nevertheless, the progressions from one character to the other were well thought out and smartly linked thematically.
1959: SLIDE–the first human dies of HIV
1961: SLIDE–The Vietnam War officially begins
Projection designer David LeClerc worked imaginatively and seamlessly with Miller and a circular scrim to produce hundreds of projections perfectly timed with the script. Likewise, lighting design by Bruno Matte is tight and explicably focused on just the right moments, and Creighton Doane’s music and sound design flawlessly complement the storytelling. The set, costume and props design by Yannik Larivée is fantastic, perfectly supplying Miller with the ideal playground to tell his story.
1962: SLIDE–Thalidomide – the “Wonder Drug” – finally banned in Canada
1966: SLIDE–”The Beatles are more popular than Jesus” (John Lennon)
BOOM is a delightful trip through the Baby Boomer generation, on the arms and voices of the very talented Rick Miller, and one looks forward to the GenX sequel BOOM X as well as the as of yet to be finished third installment.
BOOM (through February 23, 2020)
Kiddons & Wyrd Productions
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets visit http://www.59e59.org/shows/show-detail/boom/
Running time: two hours including one intermission