He doesn't beam in, but William Shatner does the next best thing at the start of his one-man Broadway show: He appears to the familiar orchestral strains of the "Star Trek" theme.
Then he soaks up the applause.
"Thank you," he says when it finally dies down. "You need an entrance because you put on a few years and a few pounds, nobody recognizes you."
That won't be a problem at the Music Box Theatre, where "Shatner's World: We Just Live In It" opened Thursday for a limited run ahead of a monthlong, 15-city U.S. tour. Shatner may be many things – goofy, charming, playful and crass – but he's instantly recognizable.
During his 100-minute set that flits between self and self-parody, Shatner traces his life – from growing up in Canada to acting alongside Christopher Plummer to "Star Trek" and "Boston Legal" to his musical career. He does it all dressed in a pair of jeans, a suit coat and an open collared shirt, and uses that comforting-yet-strange, overly theatrical, halting delivery.
Perhaps it's the fact that he's approaching his 81st birthday, but Shatner seems to be dwelling a lot on mortality these days. "Death is the final frontier," he says at one point, a twist on the opening monologue of "Star Trek."
There's actually a lot of death in the show. Shatner discusses how he approached killing off James T. Kirk – using the same "awe and wonder" Kirk had for life – and also his father's passing (we learn Shatner escorted the body home to Montreal and picked out a cheap pine casket, thinking his dad would appreciate the thriftiness.) There is a story about the death of a beloved horse and a mention of his third wife, Nerine, who drowned.
Yet the show somehow avoids becoming overly maudlin. "Love is the difference between the cold light of the universe and the warmth of the human spirit," Shatner says. "And life doesn't have to end when love is present."
Still, Shatner is bothered by what comes next. He lingers on the supposed final words of Timothy Leary ("Of course") and Steve Jobs ("Oh, wow"), wondering what it all means. "What happens at the other end? I don't know!" he demands, almost screaming.
The crowd on one preview night seemed game to just let Shatner be Shatner. None wore "Star Trek" tunics or spoke Vulcan. They were happy simply to watch him boldly go.
This is a very personal show for such an egomaniacal title, with Shatner taking the audience through his years at McGill University, to playing the lead in "Henry V" at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, to the unhappy Broadway show "The World of Suzie Wong."
We learn about his love of horses, his TV shows, his strange encounter with the famous sign language speaking gorilla Koko, and his collaboration with Ben Folds. Did you know he hates rats? Or that a kidney stone he passed earned $25,000 for Habitat for Humanity?
Shatner illustrates his stories with film and video clips or photographs projected onto a huge globe, set against a black backdrop shimmering with stars. His is a selective history – no Leonard Nimoy, but a dig or two at George Takei. There's a story about "Rescue 911" but not a mention of "T.J. Hooker." Director Scott Faris has helped shape the material with the lightest of hands, perhaps too light.
For "Trekkies," Shatner recalls first seeing the initial pilot of "Star Trek" – filmed without him – and liking what he saw. "It's filled with aliens and heroes and girls with green paint and tiny bikinis – everything I'm interested in," he says.
There are other sweet memories, too, like the time he signed the lunar module on a trip to NASA headquarters at the Kennedy Space Center in 1968. There also are bittersweet ones, like the time a young boy stumbled upon him at his lowest point – broke and divorced and living in his truck – and asked for a tour of his "space ship."
Shatner closes the show by performing his only song of the night – "Real" from his 2007 album "Has Been." It is very much like Shatner himself, a little out of date, a little bizarre, but endearing nonetheless.
"I wish I knew the things you think I do/I would change this world for sure/But I eat and sleep and breathe and bleed and feel," he sings, kind of. "Sorry to disappoint you/But I'm real."
There’s not much art but plenty of commerce in “Shatner’s World: We Just Live In It,” which opened last night at the Music Box Theatre for a limited run.
Its star, William Shatner, beams onto Broadway with fans who’ve watched him go from “Star Trek” Captain James T. Kirk to “Boston Legal” lawyer Denny Crane to Priceline guy to unlikely recording artist.
All solo bios involve some self-promotion. But at their best they also take you on a journey, with stops for an insight or takeaway or two. “World” just feels like an extended sales pitch for Shatner as an icon. Broadway is a way to expand the brand.
Sure, there’s a whiff of irony in all of the get-a-load-of-me. And the show is painless and amusing. But there’s no structure, flow or overarching theme during its 90 minutes, so it meanders. Like my attention.
Too bad, since there were chances to weave together themes he raises — taking risks, say, or the power of yes — into a more powerful piece. But 80-year-old Shatner and director Scott Faris (“Walking With Dinosaurs”) were content with a hastily assembled cut-and-paste catalogue.
Dressed casually in jeans and a blazer, Shatner begins with his Montreal upbringing, then it’s on to his love of burlesque, business studies at McGill and understudying Christopher Plummer for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Pictures and clips are shown at various points on a giant round screen.
Also included are ethnic jokes and anecdotes about a road trip with a rabbi and how he saved “The World of Suzie Wong” on Broadway from disaster.
Marriages, kids and a kidney stone merit a mention. Ditto his “Star Trek” audition: “It had aliens, heroes, girls in green paint and bikinis — everything I liked.” He closes with a song Brad Paisley wrote for him.
The best line and laugh came impromptu, when his microphone pack came loose and dangled. “Do I have a tail?” he said. “Some people think I do.”
Shatner’s co-star is an Aeron chair, which gets a major workout. He glides around on it and uses it like a NASA hammock, a horse, an ape and his clothing-manufacturer father’s casket.
Die-hard Trekkies may find it all out of this “World.” Others, not so much.
William Shatner makes most screen actors look like puppets with too many media-training classes.
It’s not as if he’s a great thespian like, say, Christopher Plummer — for whom Shatner understudied in “Henry V” in 1956, only to kill him off with photon torpedoes in “Star Trek VI” 35 years later.
But while there aren’t any Oscars or Tonys on Shatner’s shelves, he’s much more than an actor — he’s a personality of galactic proportions. There’s a sense that he does what he wants when he wants, with a devil-may-care lack of concern for propriety or a normal career path.
That meandering road has now taken him to Broadway, where his solo “Shatner’s World — We Just Live in It” opened last night.
It’s on the rambling, ramshackle side — think of it as “S#*! William Shatner Says” — but the star’s admirers will gobble up this ham-and-cheese sandwich of a show. As for those on the fence, they may find themselves won over by the man’s unique mix of candor, self-deprecation and grandiose ego.
The bad news first: Despite a flamboyant recording career that may or may not have peaked with last year’s demented cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Shatner performs only one tune, the Brad Paisley-penned “Real,” and it comes at the very end of the evening.
Almost as frustrating, there’s nothing about TV’s “T. J. Hooker” or his own “TekWar” novels. Really, Bill!
At least Shatner dishes out just enough “Star Trek” stuff to keep rabid fans happy. He mocks former co-star and everlasting nemesis George “Mr. Sulu” Takei early on, but then takes an hour to get to Capt. Kirk. Before that, we hear about Shatner’s boyhood in Canada, his early stage work and, most notably, a cross-country drive ferrying a rabbi and his wife.
Flanked by two docking stations — that is, a pair of desks and chairs — he reminisces with the occasional video clip. His stories unspool in rough chronological order as he highlights his various activities and passions — NASA! “Boston Legal”! Priceline! — as well as drops Jewish-mother jokes and a couple of references to his having “a rocket up my ass.” In space, no one can hear you groan.
This terrain has already been covered in several memoirs, including 2011’s “Shatner Rules,” but hearing those stories from the horse’s mouth is something else.
A highlight is an anecdote involving the memorable sentence: “I used to hunt with a bow and arrow, so I know about stalking game.” That the tale also involves an RV and a ski pole is what makes this show more entertaining than it has any right to be.
If you’re going to have the chutzpah to call your show “Shatner’s World: We Just Live In It ...,” it is probably wise to enter joking. William Shatner, who does not need an introduction to anyone who has made it to the second sentence of this review, does precisely that in the chatty, digressive and often amusing tour of his unusual acting career, which opened Thursday night at the Music Box Theater for a brief Broadway run.
Despite the absurdly (joshingly?) self-aggrandizing title, Mr. Shatner shows a welcome tendency to poke fun at himself that anyone who has seen his commercials for the travel Web site Priceline.com will probably recognize.
Near the top of the show he recalls being asked to open a televised tribute to George Lucas. A dubious Mr. Shatner wondered, would Mr. Lucas, the creator of “Star Wars,” get the joke? On the giant circular screen that dominates the set we are shown marked evidence that he did not, at least at first. When Mr. Shatner is introduced as M.C., Mr. Lucas and others are shown looking dumbfounded or disgusted.
Obsessive fans of “Star Trek,” the television series that ran for a mere three seasons in the 1960s but spawned a veritable galaxy of movie and television series spinoffs in the following decades, should be cautioned that Mr. Shatner does not get around to that period in his career until just about an hour into his 1-hour-40-minute performance. This is not a show designed for a Trekkie convention, although it’s safe to say that Mr. Shatner’s audiences are probably largely composed of fans he acquired while portraying the upstanding Captain Kirk, of the perma-tan and snazzy uniforms. I don’t imagine his appearances in “T. J. Hooker,” “The Practice” or “Boston Legal” were similarly epoch making.
Still, one comes away from “Shatner’s World,” directed by Scott Faris, with a thorough grounding in virtually all phases of Mr. Shatner’s career, which began onstage in Canada and has also come to include forays into recording with musicians like Brad Paisley and Ben Folds. Admirers of these ventures as a recording artist — tongue in cheek or otherwise — will want to know that the show does conclude with a performance of the song “Real,” with lovely music by Mr. Paisley, and a funny, rather touching lyric that muses on the distance between Mr. Shatner’s image and his life.
Although he spends a fair amount of time getting in and out of a comfy-looking desk chair, and regales us with the story of a riding accident that injured his leg, Mr. Shatner appears hale and full of energy as he reminiscences about his professional and personal lives. Born in Montreal to a father in the clothing business, Mr. Shatner was bitten by the acting bug at 6 and apparently never looked back, though he graduated from college with a business degree he had no interest in using.
The accompanying slide show attests to the leading-man looks he possessed in his youth, and Mr. Shatner made a splash at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada when, while understudying Christopher Plummer in “Henry V,” he went on at the last minute, despite having no chance to rehearse the role. Mr. Shatner’s love of horses, which constitutes a major sideline in the show, was born when he played Alexander the Great in an execrable-looking movie from which excerpts are shown.
The show is not exclusively composed of jokey anecdotes. “Do you ever think about death?” Mr. Shatner asks at one rather jarring point. “All the time, Bill,” came a shout from the back of the theater. Showing crack timing, Mr. Shatner shot back in his smooth voice, “Not tonight, please, we don’t have the insurance.” There followed some odd musings on mortality, as well as the story of Mr. Shatner’s father’s death. Knowing his father’s wishes, Mr. Shatner chose a simple pine coffin and bragged to his sister about how inexpensive it was. “Was it used?” she asked.
Mr. Shatner’s appearance in “Star Trek” has of course assured him a kind of immortality, as he acknowledges in a borderline maudlin segment from an interview he conducted with Patrick Stewart, the classically trained actor who played another sterling spaceship captain in the first of the “Star Trek” spinoffs.
Mr. Stewart confesses he’ll be perfectly happy if he’s remembered essentially for just that role, and this admission seems to inspire in Mr. Shatner an emotional epiphany. He too will be at peace if he leaves the galaxy behind known primarily for pleasing millions by manfully grappling with rubbery extraterrestrials. Certainly there are worse legacies.
The main demographic to turn out for William Shatner's 19-perf Broadway run in "Shatner's World: We Just Live in It" would seem to be Trekkies: Here's Captain Kirk, live and in person, and any mention of "Star Trek" or one of its familiar sound effects brings cheers from the faithful. That said, there's more to Shatner than his iconic sci-fi stint, which ran for three seasons of a 60-year career. His new solo stage act might be pulled together from anecdotal scraps, but it gets by with humor and good-natured charm.
Rather than fading into the shadows after his one big gig, Shatner has continually reinvented himself, mostly with humor (as in a decade of advertisements for Priceline.com). "Shatner's World" showcases a few surprising angles of that humor: For starters, the star launches into a series of Jewish mother jokes and a few rabbi jokes as well. He hails from Montreal, the dutiful son of a haberdasher with Mittel-European roots. At his father's funeral, he tells his sister that Dad would be proud that he got a good price on the coffin. "What, is it used?" she fires back.
If that joke sounds like a retread, so be it; so does a good deal of the material. Shatner's world whizzes by like a carnival wheel; when the wheel stops, we get a seemingly random but clearly scripted anecdote about this or that. But he's plenty charming about it, and if he has extended his career by turning his persona into a caricature, his perf in "Shatner's World" suggests this might have been a canny acting choice.
He survived the inevitable post-"Trek" dark days, he says, by being open to trying other things. These include his pitchman career plus a couple of indescribable recordings (of which we get a dollop, and you can buy CDs on the way out).
Production design encompasses just a few simple elements. Shatner works in front of a large projection screen, with his only performance aid being a rolling armchair on which he sits or reclines (working the gears like an old Chevrolet), and at one point dances with. The sides of the stage have cocktail tables with bar chairs and props (cigar in ashtray, half-filled glass of scotch); at the performance attended, Shatner never went near them.
Show is derived from years of personal-appearance tours. The star and his director, Scott Faris, have come up with a low-key and comfortable vehicle that Shatner should be able to take to theaters, casinos, special events and anywhere Trekkies still roam.