Somewhere along the line, Rick Miller wandered from Moshe Safdie’s Legoland and the Bauhaus world of Walter Gropius to the raucous playground of William Shakespeare and …wait for it! … Homer Simpson.
Miller is an actor, writer, singer, painter, comic and mynah bird capable of mimicking the likes of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Meatloaf, Andrea Bocelli and a raft of other singers at will.
Last year, he wore the prime ministerial chin in Mulroney: The Opera – which may or may not make it to a TV screen near you this spring.
But just for good measure, his hip pocket also sports a master’s degree in architecture from McGill University.
“I consider myself a hack of all trades,” Miller jokes on the phone from his Toronto home.
“I was never particularly great at any one thing, but I was always a good synthesizer of skills.”
When Miller hits the Yukon Arts Centre stage next week, he’ll unpack the voices of 50 characters from the animated TV sitcom, The Simpsons, in their one-of-a-kind interpretation of Shakespeare’s “Scottish play”.
Part of the Nakai Theatre Pivot Festival, Miller’s performance of MacHomer is a reprise for Yukon audiences, some of whom may have seen an earlier version several years back in what was then the Nakai Comedy Theatre Festival.
“In 2006 there was a complete overhaul of the show – a lot of new characters, an entirely new sound design, some new songs,” Miller says.
“There are going to be a few surprise changes for the Whitehorse portion of the tour.”
Something else new this time around is that Miller will end the show with his mash-up of 25 of the “most annoying voices in the music industry” assaying Freddie Mercury’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, which has received over a million YouTube hits.
“Actually, you’ll get the premiere of a couple of new voices. Every couple of years I throw in some new, annoying singers, and I think Justin Bieber will be there for the first time in Whitehorse.”
The core of the 75-minute production, though, is what Miller sometimes calls the “car crash” between the Bard of Avon and The Simpsons.
The show – which he has performed internationally more than 700 times – had humble origins as a skit to amuse his cast-mates when Miller had the minor role of the Second Murderer in a 1994 production of Macbeth by Montreal’s Repercussion Theatre.
“I had quite a bit of time on my hands backstage. The play just kind of coalesced from that simple joke to a more elaborate staging.”
Despite revisions and refinements over the years, the play remains true to its roots.
“It’s paced like a Simpsons episode. It’s got to keep going fast, because it’s pretty much a one-joke show, right?” Miller says with a self-deprecating laugh.
Well, one joke with a lot of laughs and a very large cast.
Take Homer Simpson, for example, the nuclear plant worker from Springfield who plays Shakespeare’s tragic would-be king.
“He is probably the dumbest Macbeth ever to have graced the stage. But he has a kind of lazy ambition where, for example, he wants to be the coach of the Dallas Cowboys, and yet he’s lazy and won’t go through what it takes.”
Still, Miller asserts, Homer’s ambition sometimes shines through in the show.
“People who know the show can recognize this kind of lazy lust that Macbeth – or MacHomer in this case – has.”
Like Shakespeare’s original, Homer is egged on to regicide by his wife, Marge, who wears the brains “and sometimes wears the pants” in the Simpson family.
For the infamous three witches, or “weird sisters” [side note: Miller calls his production company WYRD Productions in honour of the Elizabethan spelling], Miller has cast Moe the barber, Principal Skinner and the sea captain from the FOX Broadcasting series.
Other characters include Mr. Burns as King Duncan (“It makes sense that Homer wants to kill him, because he’s Homer’s boss in real life.”), Smithers as Malcolm, Barney Gumble as Macduff, Krustythe Klown as the drunken porter and Ned Flanders as Banquo.
“Bart plays Fleance, but disappears very quickly because he hates Shakespeare,” while his sister Lisa, as the Gentlewoman, “is quite disgusted at the treatment of women in the production, feminist that she is,” Miller explains.
For those unfamiliar with Matt Groening’s yellow-hued characters – now in their 23rd season on FOX – Miller’s multi-media show includes a visual introduction to the cast.
“To any Simpsons fan, you can tell them that it feels like a Simpsons Halloween episode, and they will get exactly what it is.”
Meanwhile, Shakespeare purists who might balk at the idea of a pop-culture Macbeth might want to consider that the Stratford Shakespeare Festival has booked MacHomer for a month-long run during its 60th anniversary celebrations this year.
“And if you hate Shakespeare, or you have a teenager who hates Shakespeare and is forced to study it in school, this may be the perfect show for them to hate Shakespeare a little bit less,” Miller suggests.
MacHomer will be at the Yukon Arts Centre for two shows on Friday, January 27 at 7 and 9:30 p.m.