Theater Review By: Gordon K. Smith
In February 2012, William Shatner, at age 80 still finding new worlds to explore, opened his one -man show “Shatner’s World: We Just Live in It” at Broadway’s Music Box Theatre to good reviews, and three weeks later took it on the road. I caught the performance at The Majestic Theater in Dallas on March 22nd – which just happened to also be Shatner’s 81st birthday. And a party it was, with Shatner sharing his gifts with a packed house.
And the man is gifted. Having, like many baby boomers, grown up with him, through Captain Kirk, T. J. Hooker, Denny Crane, some cheesy movies, decades of derision and parody, I was still impressed, to say the least, by his onstage presence, power and amazing level of energy for an octogenarian. In a two-hour show with an office chair for a prop, no intermission and few pauses – and those, mostly for video interludes on the screen behind him – Shatner was funny, moving, and insightful, even when he appeared to stumble or lose his place a time or two. Among other things, it was a fine demonstration of his origins as a stage actor, in both his native Canada and on Broadway, a Shatner most of us have never seen ’til now. What a revelation!
He got laughs even before making his entrance, as he (instead of the house manager) recited from backstage the usual pre-show housekeeping about cell phones and picture taking (which, of course, didn’t stop someone’s annoyingly loud cell phone ringing during a serious moment, and pro he is, Shatner managed to ignore it). After starting off with some well-delivered but well-worn jokes (the first of many Jewish jokes the Jewish Shatner would drop during the night) I wondered if I was in for a long, stand-up comedy routine. Thankfully no. From there he addressed, up front and out of the way for the rest of the night, the much-publicized criticism from fellow Star Trek cast members, most notably George Takei, in the now-famous profane clip from The Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner. As for that fabled arrogance – he’s turned it into an art. From there Shatner took us back to his Montreal-Shakespearean roots as an understudy to fellow Canadian Christopher Plummer (and their later reunion in STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY).
And on to anecdotes about his early days in America, his early film and TV appearances, the conventions, NASA honors, his offbeat recording career, and very emphatically, his love of horses. In one of the longest, and most affecting highlights, Bill (his self-designation) explores how this love bloomed with his ’60s role as Alexander the Great (in an unsold TV pilot), and how that also informed one of his best Star Trek moments. Other memorable moments concern his meeting with Coco, an oversexed gorilla, his father’s funeral, the death of third wife Nerine and his happiness with current wife Elizabeth, “The World of Suzie Wong” on Broadway with France Nguyen (he didn’t mention their later reteaming on a classic Trek episode), and his finally coming to peace with his unshakable legacy as Captain James T. Kirk, thanks to a meeting of minds with Patrick Stewart in Shatner’s Trek documentary THE CAPTAINS.
There’s also a long, intense, funny recounting of a encounter he had with an eccentric local while making Roger Corman’s civil rights drama THE INTRUDER in 1962; I wish he had talked more about this pre-Trek film, which deserves to be better known (and is now available on DVD, seek it). It contains arguably Shatner’s best performance and Corman’s best directing, and I hope Shatner’s still got one great film performance in him.
Like this one, many of these tales are also recounted in Shatner’s very funny 2011 book, “Shatner Rules”, and have been part of Shatner lore for decades. Nothing could be a more vital part of that lore than his vocal efforts, starting with the 1968 album “The Transformed Man” (containing his legendarily weird covers of “Tambourine Man” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”) to his recent releases with his producer pal Ben Fold, 2004’s “Has Been” and last year’s “Seeking Major Tom”. One of his final treats of the evening was speak-singing some of the tunes from those; the crowd was more than happen to respond with a surprise rendition of “Happy Birthday” (thanks to notes passed out by The Majestic staff). Really, can you imagine pop culture of the last 45 years without this man? Live long and prosper, Bill.