Something funny comes to the Winspear on Thursday with the one-night-only performance of the family-friendly one-man show MacHomer, actor-writer Rick Miller's comic adaptation of Macbeth using characters from The Simpsons.
It's an inspired idea that Miller, a Toronto-based actor, launched in 1995 and has performed around the globe ever since. This week's show will be his next-to-last as he retires MacHomer after 17 years and moves onto other projects.
Turning Shakespeare's bloodiest tragedy into bloody funny comedy started as a sketch Miller did at cast parties. It grew into a 75-minute tour de force that includes live video, sound effects and other blasts of visual spectacle. Miller got permission from Simpsons' creator Matt Groening to use the characters, turning Mr. Burns (one of Miller's best voices) into the sinister King Duncan, Krusty the Clown into the drunken porter and Homer Simpson into the ambition-driven title character.
We had a nice phone chat with Rick Miller just before he arrived in Dallas.
Would William Shakespeare have been a good writer for The Simpsons? Rick Miller: I think so. The writing teams that work on all the shows these days- Mad Men, The Newsroom, The Simpsons -- are so smart. I think Shakespeare would've been a good writer on certain episodes. But I don't know how he would've worked in a collaborative environment. His plays were possessed by some kind of brilliance. His plays aren't just words on a stage -- just as the songs of the Beatles aren't black notes on a white page.
Why did you adapt Macbeth and not one of the other plays? Macbeth is short, funny and very straightforward. I just saw Cymbeline at Stratford [Canada's leading Shakespeare company]. It's all over the place. Macbeth has so many lines everyone recognizes. Everyone studies it in school. You go to any modern dictator -- it has parallels.
Your Simpsons voices are spot on. When did you know you were a good mimic? As a teenager -- I'm now 42 -- I'd sit there imitating rock singers in my bedroom, taping on a little tape recorder. Every teen does that. But I realized I had a good singing voice. My voice was flexible and elastic. I could go anywhere with it. I studied architecture in college. But I started doing plays and creating my own plays. I could create any context and be free with my voice. MacHomer certainly takes my voice way beyond where most people could take it.
Do you do anything special to keep your voice in shape? (Laughing) I'm not Celine Dion. I don't use a blackboard and not talk up to 4 p.m. I like to have a drink now and then and I'm not about to be precious. But I do take care of my voice. I sleep and eat well and drink lots of water. I'm not too crazy the day of the show. I try to save my energy a little bit. In 850 performances of MacHomer, I've only had to cancel one show because I lost my voice.
Why did you stick with MacHomer for 17 years? One of the reasons I've kept doing the show was because I felt it was worthwhile to play it to busloads of school kids who get back on the bus hating Shakespeare a little bit less. It's not a bad way to spend 75 minutes.
I didn't start out with any altruistic, educational goal. It was a joke and I've tried to keep it a bit of a joke. Underneath a layer of brilliance and real complexity in the play is a real sense of humor and parody. MacHomer is a tribute to Shakespeare and The Simpsons, but it's a lot of fun.
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Solo shows are making a big comeback right now in the theater world. Are you Mike Daisey lite? Mike Daisey sits at a table and just talks. I think I'm more akin to Spalding Gray. I'm not a stand-up comic either. I'm more of a performer. I literally play dozens or sometimes 100 characters onstage. People forget there's one person onstage. They think they're watching a Halloween episode of The Simpsons.
One thing that's changed since 1995 is that The Simpsons TV show isn't as well known to kids as it used to be. Right. Nowadays kids don't know it necessarily unless their parents tell them about it. Often I get these teenagers with 40-something dads -- that's the sweet spot of my audience. I don't watch The Simpsons much anymore. But it's still on the air. Somebody's watching it and I still keep getting people into the theater.
MacHomer will be performed at 8 p.m., Thursday, November 15 at the Winspear Opera House. For tickets, call 214-880-0202 or visit tickets.attpac.org.