Shatner's World: We Just Live in It
Written by and starring William Shatner. 8 p.m. November 8 at the Palace Theatre, 61 Atlantic St., Stamford. $50 & $75; $290 for VIP seats, a souvenir poster and a post-show reception with Shatner. (203) 325-4466, scalive.org
William Shatner, live on stage? In truth, the man who played venerable Captain James T. Kirk has boldly gone this way before. The actor behind T.J. Hooker has walked the stage beat. The personification of Boston lawyer Denny Crane has swayed live observers outside the courtroom. The "Chief Negotiating Officer" in Priceline ads has navigated a proscenium. Dad has said shit to audiences.
It's been a while, of course. Shatner began his career in the 1940s with the Canadian Repertory Theatre and the Stratford Festival in Ontario. His three hit Broadway appearances in the 1950s and '60s run the gamut from Elizabethan tragedy (as Usumcasane, spouting "To be a king is half to be a god" in Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine the Great) to romantic drama (as the American architect who falls in love with an Asian prostitute in The World of Suzie Wong) to a farcical French mystery (A Shot in the Dark, which when it was adapted into an Inspector Clouseau comedy starring Peter Sellers essentially did away with Shatner's character).
Since then, Shatner's career has mostly been captured on video and celluloid. But the celebrated performer never entirely forsook strutting and fretting on the stage. He even still does Shakespeare, as part of the all-star "Simply Shakespeare" fundraisers held annually for the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles. Last month, Shatner essayed Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream, alongside Martin Short, Billy Crystal, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson. He's played Falstaff for the same series; wouldn't you have killed to see that?
In a brief phone interview with the 81-year-old star of stage, screen, literature, documentaries, record albums, cartoons, commercials and classic "Saturday Night Live" sketches, Shatner admitted that despite the continuing success of his one-man stage show Shatner's World, he still gets a touch of nerves before going out on stage. But "it's the anxiety of wanting to please people," he says. "I have done quite a bit of standing up in front of an audience, entertaining large numbers of people." Shatner's World had a New York run earlier this year; the Nov. 8 performance at the Stamford Palace marks the start of a 20-city extension of the show's national tour.
A lot of his recent work — the shortlived sitcom "Shit My Dad Says," the recent memoir/advice book Shatner's Rules, and certainly much of Shatner's World — shows Shatner's comic side. "There was a period of time," the actor recalls, "when I was paid to be very serious." Yet he started out in light, comic stage roles. The turning point might have been his turns in classic episodes of TV anthology series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." He remembers those days warmly: "There was a value in having a piece that was like a play."
Shatner says he scripted Shatner's World himself. He's listed as the author of dozens of books, everything from autobiographies (including two published in the past three years, Up Till Now and Shatner Rules) to science fiction series (Tek War, Quest for Tomorrow and naturally a bunch of Star Trek novels), though nearly all of them bear co-writer credits. (The popular Tek War series from the 1990s, for instance, were reportedly outlined by Shatner and written by prolific Connecticut-based novelist Ron Goulart.)
As a performer, he keeps the presentation fairly loose, Shatner says, yet quickly adds that "there are something like 53 cues for the sound and lights." So it really does appear to be a well-calibrated show and not one of those informal celebrity show-up-and-answer-a-few-questions affairs that so many stars and their fans settle for. There are projections — "clips that have meaning," as Shatner puts it — but the main attraction is the man himself. He even sings — "I play three numbers that I wrote."
William Shatner's musical career may be overlooked by fans of his movies, shows and books, but it's been just as steady a part of his long, multi-faceted (and often facetious) career. His first album, The Transformed Man, in 1968 contained his legendary spoken-word interpretation of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds."
His 2011 album Seeking Major Tom included covers of "Space Oddity," "Rocket Man," "Iron Man" and a reading of the Kurt Weill/Maxwell Anderson ballad "Lost in the Stars." When told that many listeners find his excitable 2004 rendition of Pulp's "Common People" (made in collaboration with Ben Folds) to be superior to the original, Shatner notes that the tune is still making waves; he's just given permission to have it heard in an episode of the TV mystery series "Castle" later this year.
"I've been playing music my whole life," Shatner insists. "I'm writing a new album right now." His other preoccupation of late has been film documentaries that deal with the role he thought he could never break free from, but which is now just one of a pantheon of characters spanning a six-decade career. The Captains (2011) profiled those who've played Captains on Star Trek TV series. (This month, Shatner reunited in England with those four others at a "Destination Star Trek London" convention.) Get a Life, released in July, covers the phenomenon of Star Trek conventions, referencing both Shatner's infamous 1986 "Saturday Night Live" sketch where he admonishes sci-fi geeks for "turning an enjoyable little job that I did for a few years as a lark into a colossal waste of time" and his 1999 book which chronicled his own conversion to Trekkiedom.
By contrast, the Shatner's World stage show "does not have a lot of Star Trek in it," according to its star/author. Why would it, with so many other worlds to explore?
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