Shatner’s World Review: Captain Kirk Back On Broadway
There is the William Shatner, long forgotten, who appeared with Spencer Tracy in “Judgment at Nuremberg” and replaced an ill Christopher Plummer as Henry V at the Stratford Festival. There is the familiar William Shatner of Captain Kirk in “Star Trek” and Denny Crane in “Boston Legal.” And then there is the William Shatner of “Shatner’s World: We Just Live In It,” the one-man show which marks his return to Broadway for the first time in 50 years. This may be the most familiar William Shatner of all – Shatner as talk show guest.
In 100 minutes, an amiable, informal Shatner tells the sort of jokes and anecdotes that you have heard him deliver on Johnny Carson/Merv Griffin/Leno/Letterman over the last 100 years — sometimes corny, sometimes mildly self-deprecating, often semi-humorous, occasionally semi-coherent. He even shows some promotional clips just like a guest would on the talk shows, although what he is promoting this time is himself. With a few exceptions, such as a monologue or two from “Star Trek,” these clips, shown on a round screen meant to suggest the planet Earth, are the celebrity equivalent of home movies: He is shown in a living-room-like set, chatting with another star; or introducing Star Wars director George Lucas at an awards ceremony (“oh, Star Wars,” he says in mock surprise); or giving a speech upon receiving his honorary doctorate from his alma mater, McGill (“Don’t be afraid of taking chances,” he says, dressed in academic regalia. “Don’t be afraid of making an ass of yourself. I do it all the time, and look what I got,” he says, holding up his honorary doctorate.)
His anecdotes and clips are organized (if that’s the right word) in roughly chronological order, starting with a childhood in Montreal as the son of immigrant Jewish parents; here he takes the opportunity to deliver some Jewish jokes straight out of the Borscht Belt (he even at one point mentions how much he loves borscht), and tell a story about driving a rabbi from Vancouver to Chicago just in time for Friday night services that feels as long as that car trip. Having decided at the age of six that he wants to be an actor, he majors in economics to please his father, who is hoping Shatner will join him in his clothing business. Instead, after graduation, Shatner gets a job as an assistant manager for a theater company in Canada, but does such a poor job of it, he says, that they make him an actor instead. While he tells tales from early in his career, we see publicity shots of a strikingly handsome young man. This is around the time when he fits in the story about his big break coming from understudying for Christopher Plummer, and then includes a clip of Shatner interviewing Plummer talk-show fashion, followed by a brief scene of Plummer guest-starring in a Star Trek episode. “I went from his understudy to his captain,” Shatner remarks to us with a grin.
He passes quickly over his movie roles (omitting “Judgment at Nuremberg”) and tells a few odd anecdotes about his involvement in what we now call the Golden Age of Television (“Live television was intimidating”). It takes an hour for him to arrive at “Star Trek” — and then he spends far less time on it than you might have expected. Of interest is his observation that “Star Trek” and N.A.S.A. had a symbiotic relationship — space launches helped ratings; the show’s popularity helped N.A.S.A.’s funding. But this is passed over quickly too, as is most everything else. He mentions that he came home to find his third wife dead. We hear little more about it.
Shatner’s aim seems to be to turn his life story into an entertainment that is no more taxing, and no less relaxed, than the Tonight Show. Too often, though, it is way too relaxed.
“My co-chair for the evening,” he says near the beginning, as somebody pushes a chair onto the stage. It’s one of those adjustable desk chairs on wheels. At least a half dozen times during the show, he will lean back in the chair while saying “I was lying in bed….” One time he trips over it.
He also mangles what Neil Armstrong said when he stepped on the moon. When the largely adoring audience did not laugh at a joke, he tells us he’s going to take it out of the show. He shows his microphone apparatus hanging off his backside and remarks: “Have I grown a tail?”
Your tolerance for such sloppiness masquerading as spontaneity surely depends on how much of a William Shatner fan you are, and what you expect for $126.50.
There are hints in “Shatner’s World” of what a little more rehearsal and a lot more thought might have produced. At one point, he plays a brief video of George Takei (who played Sulu) angrily cursing him out. No more explanation. Onto the next anecdote. Another time, he re-enacts the scene of the dying of his racehorse, a moment that is absorbing, even touching — and which he then ruins by his effort to be profound: “Death is the final frontier.”
It would be too easy to score some cleverness out of William Shatner and his less-than-diligent-or-deep one-man show: Star Drek, Beam Me Out of Here, Scotty, etc. One could see something very American (or anyway Canadian/American) in his journey from promising performer to self-parody. But whatever you think of his talents, you have to give William Shatner his due. Indeed, the less impressed you are by his skills as an artist, the more impressed you should be by his endurance. There was no end to the supply of celebrated chisel-faced TV stars in the 1950′s and 60′s. How many of them are still in the public eye at the age of 80, having lived through not just “Star Trek” and “Boston Legal” but “Rescue 911,” “T.J. Hooker,” “The Practice,” some odd albums, and this show.
“I’ve been kissed hundreds (maybe thousands) of times on screen, yet only loved a few, I’ve been killed 19 times, and yet I am still standing here in front of you ready to go another 80 years.”
William Shatner says this on the website for Shatner’s World, but not in the show.
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Shatner’s World: We Just LIve In It
Written by William Shatner
Cast: William Shatner
Directed by Scott Faris, set design by Edward Pierce, lighting design by Ken Billington, sound design by Peter Fitzgerald
Running time: 100 minutes with no intermission
Ticket prices: $46.50 – $126.50
“Shatner’s World” will be on Broadway until March 4, and will then go on tour.
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