BOOM. The thunderous onomatopoeia signifies upheaval, destruction and catastrophe, but also transformation, growth and progress. It also describes an entire generation that emerged during the turbulent period following World War II—the baby boom.
Award-winning Canadian performer Rick Miller adopted that term to title his highly acclaimed one-man show, “BOOM,” which will make its Idaho debut at the Argyros this weekend, with back-to-back performances on Friday, Aug. 23, and Saturday, Aug. 24.
Miller premiered “BOOM” for the 2015-16 theatrical season in Canada, during which time it was the most presented play in the country.
“I’ve done it over 300 times across North America, but this will be my first time doing it in Idaho,” Miller said. “It’s the same show each time, but it’s part of an ongoing conversation about generations, about where we’re heading and where we’ve been.”
In only about 100 minutes, Miller deftly and adroitly canters through 25 years of tempestuous world history, embodying 100 of the most influential and iconic figures of that era, from Winston Churchill to Janis Joplin.
The show touches upon all the culture, politics, art, conflict and advancements that shaped the baby boom generation. Bookended by the dropping of the atomic bomb at the beginning and the moon landing at the end, “BOOM” touches upon everything from David Bowie and The Rolling Stones to TV dinners and Tupperware, to the Vietnam War and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
Miller, a performer extraordinaire, embodies historical and artistic figures with aplomb and respect. His versatile voice assumes Ed Sullivan as convincingly as it does John F. Kennedy and Roger Daltrey.
These performances transcend mere impressions, though.
“Whenever I do an impersonation in ‘BOOM,’ it’s never for the sake of the impersonation. I carry the weight of who they were and what they did. I try to honor that history,” Miller said. “These are voices I don’t take lightly. I certainly don’t pretend to be Dr. King, for example, but I think people appreciate that I’m trying to honor him and others and capture what crucial and influential figures they were.”
Though Miller allowed as how an audience member can view the performance “as a fun romp and a piece of nostalgia,” that was not his primary objective in writing it, nor in the performance.
Miller said he hopes to inspire audience members to reflect critically upon the past, to analyze the highs and lows, to understand how some problems were solved and others went unsolved to burden future generations. Most concisely, he said “BOOM” aims to “build bridges, not walls.”
“History should be taught, and I want it to be interesting. That’s why I’m so happy to get young people in and to get invited to perform it in schools,” he said.
From speaking with those young viewers, Miller often hears that “they note some differences, but mostly they learn similarities.”
“Their grandparents were just like them,” he said. “You can focus all you want on what separates you from older generations, but that’s never as constructive or informative as focusing on the similarities and establishing bonds.”
In the course of the play’s production, and in other works he has created and performed around the globe, Miller’s own world view has expanded and deepened.
“The more you know, the less you realize you know. Learning gives you humility—there’s a certain type of arrogance in ignorance,” he said. “What I hope comes through in ‘BOOM,’ beyond music and historical events, is the humility of being human and realizing we have so much more to learn.
“There are so many ways to divide people, whether through polarized politics, nation-state values or ideologies. What this play does is bring people together of different generations and backgrounds and show the commonalities. We all get crazy about music, we all make mistakes, rebel against our parents. These things build bridges, rather than walls.”
“BOOM” is part one in a trilogy of one-man shows. Its sequel, “BOOM X,” picks up where its predecessor leaves off, following members of Generation X until 1995. Miller is currently working on the final instalment, “BOOM Y-Z,” which will delve into the current crop of millennials up through 2020.
Both the Friday, Aug. 23, and Saturday, Aug. 24, events begin at 8 p.m. at the Argyros Performing Arts Center, 120 Main St. S. in Ketchum. Tickets range from $25-$95, the top tier including complimentary hors d’oeuvres and drinks an hour before the performance.
Visit theargyros.org for details or to purchase tickets.