Boom, Clap, the Sound of My Youth
While Boom X may be billed as a power-packed reminiscence of the music and events that shaped the lives of Generation X, it is so much more. And for a production that focuses on musical styles that are (wrongly) criticized for their superficiality (like disco and New Wave), Boom X succeeds due to its depth and the audience’s personal attachment to a master performer in author, director, and star Rick Miller.
Boom X is the second part of a trilogy, sandwiched (appropriately so for Generation X) between Boom, the story of the Baby Boomer generation, and Boom YZ, the story of the Millennial generation. But where Boom and Boom YZ tell the story of Miller’s parents’ and daughters’ generations, respectively, Boom X puts the spotlight squarely on Miller himself, his experiences, and the events and social movements of the world around him.
The marketing of Boom X focuses on the music and the 100 characters that Miller portrays in a densely packed hour and a half. But that description doesn’t do justice to the depth of the production. Superficially, yes, the show is propelled in a We Didn’t Start the Fire-esque presentation of words, images, and music, presenting a year-by-year account starting at the end of Woodstock in 1969 and culminating with personal life-changing moments in 1995. But that is just the superficial elements.
Where Boom X excels is in adding depth to what could have been nothing more than a stage version of CNN’s decades-focused miniseries. Instead, Miller introduces us to four “interviewees” who we see in video snippets, but quickly transition into Miller emulating their responses and masterfully weaving their story into his own. The relevance of these four seemingly disparate and unconnected people is slowly revealed and centres the production around the story of one man’s growth. It’s simple, yet brilliant, and is the true heart of this production.
We travel through time with Miller as he experiences new genres of music, conscripts new styles in an effort to find the right fit for him, and discusses the impact – or lack thereof – that key global events had on him.
Full disclosure, as a Montrealer born in the ’70s, and one with a still-burning love for the Montreal Expos, so much of this production resonated with my own experience. We often want to see ourselves and our experiences reflected in the plays we see – and, in this case, it sometimes felt like looking in a mirror. I too was oblivious to the ramifications of the 1980 Quebec Referendum whilst living there and more focused on the heartbreak of Blue Monday. This was not the story of a precocious youth looking back on his life and playing the role of a too-savvy-for-his-years observer to the life around him. Miller was just a normal kid, doing normal kid things. And that honesty was refreshing. That said, my wife, who is neither part of Generation X nor a Montrealer, was thoroughly entertained. Despite its focus on Generation X, the moments, themes, and stories resonate with the generations that precede it, as well as provide an understanding to those who came after.
Miller’s vocal impersonations may not be on the level of – to reference another performer of which Generation X is likely familiar – André-Philippe Gagnon, but he doesn’t need to be. His singing, embrace of mannerisms, and minimalist costumes perfectly capture the essence of the artists.
Boom X manages to combine all the rawness, intimacy, and honesty of the best Fringe shows (and Miller did start out on the Fringe circuit), with the amplification provided by the production quality of a professional stage show. Yet, despite the larger – but not nearly full enough – venue, Miller creates and maintains a connection with the audience that invests you fully in the production.
That connection was no more evident than midway through the second act, when a blown fuse pitched the stage into darkness. After getting his bearings, Miller improvised a bit while repairs took place, breaking into a sing-a-long of Guns N’ Roses’ Patience. Throughout the production, Miller speaks of a mantra he’s adopted to “Fail Better” and his embrace of that was put to the test – and passed with flying colours – due to this technical glitch.
Stage-wise, Miller splits his time between performing between two giant presentation screens, where the images and text-based context of the events are superimposed on his performances, and stepping around these screens to engage with the audience “one-on-one.” Overall, it works masterfully, with some wonderfully simple-but-effective visual effects complementing his story. And other than the blown fuse (which was not his fault), the only glitch seemed to come from a lag between the audio he was producing and the rendering of his image on the video screens. But that’s a minor quibble and really takes nothing away from the show.
If you’re a fan of the music of the ’70s, ’80s, and early ’90s, you’ll quickly find yourself swaying in rhythm or singing along with Miller’s performances. And if you’re not, that’s OK – because the music and events presented in this story – despite what the marketing leads you to believe – serve merely as the soundtrack to one man’s story, and the interweaving of four other stories into a cohesive whole.
It’s a celebration of the day-to-day realities in which we live, where we’re impacted – but not dominated – by the world-changing events around us. It’s a story about all of us, no matter what generation we’re from. And it’s a celebration of growth, family, friends, and finding our place.
In a production filled with 100 other “stars,” it is Miller himself that shines brightest.
1 thought on “Boom X”
“Fail better” is a fragment of a quotation attributed to Samuel Beckett. One of my faves.
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