Review: Visiting Shatner's world

At the end of his rambunctious one-man show Thursday at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, William Shatner gave what must have been the least-needed apology uttered that night in Costa Mesa: "Sorry to disappoint you, but I'm real."

It wasn't an off-the-cuff apology; Shatner was reciting the Brad Paisley-penned song (or, rather, monologue with music) that closes his 2004 album "Has Been." Over the last 90 minutes, Shatner had reminded the audience repeatedly that he was less than mythic — with stories about forgetting his lines while performing Shakespeare, earning poor grades in college and more.

Perhaps the opposite of "real" would be Capt. James T. Kirk or T.J. Hooker, but as storytellers, they might not be as entertaining as Shatner, who provided a whirlwind tour of his life and many careers in "Shatner's World: We Just Live In It." Accompanied onstage by a video screen and a swivel chair, which he used as an all-purpose prop, the actor raced from one yarn to another, sometimes acting them out so vigorously that the intermittent film clips felt like moments for him to catch his breath.

Indeed, the only people who might reasonably have been disappointed Thursday were hardcore Trekkies who came hoping for an extended take on Kirk. Compared to, say, Mark Hamill, Shatner has led a high-profile career apart from his most famous role — he won a Golden Globe in 2004 for playing hard-nosed attorney Denny Crane on "Boston Legal" — but "Shatner's World" was still surprisingly light on "Trek" material, with the show's original TV run summarized only briefly and costars Leonard Nimoy and George Takei barely mentioned.

When Shatner did bring up the world of the Enterprise, he often did it as part of a larger context: An anecdote about a boy mistaking Shatner for Kirk in 1969 connected to a memory of America's awe over the moon landing, while a mention of Kirk's demise in the film "Star Trek: Generations" fit into a deeper rumination about how we handle death.

Given how much "Star Trek" has been picked apart and analyzed over the years — and, no doubt, how many times Shatner has spoken about it at conventions — it's hard to fault him for not making it the focus of his one-man show. More than most actors, Shatner has sought to stretch his capabilities; in addition to acting, his resume includes recording music, hosting game shows, breeding horses and even penning novels.

Not all those endeavors have met with critical success, and some have drawn outright scorn: As he noted with some relish Thursday, his 1960s recordings of "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" wound up on a Rhino Records CD series of goofy celebrity singing. But "Shatner's World" was clearly not the work of a man whose bliss is to wait for years between choosing suitable projects.

"Life is risk," he told the audience at one point, and that three-word phrase neatly encapsuled the message of the show. Acting at all was a risk for Shatner, whose father urged him to become a businessman; his experiences on Broadway and television underlined how even a successful career can be at the mercy of eccentric colleagues and technical difficulties.

A couple of Shatner's stories built promisingly but led to underwhelming punchlines, and his rapid-fire delivery in places obscured some words, but those were minor flaws. With such a wealth of material to choose from — his 2008 autobiography "Up Till Now" could easily provide enough for another one-man show, or two or three — Shatner never let the pace lag, and the comic brashness of most of the night made the quiet moments, especially a touching memory of his father's death, even more effective.

The title "Shatner's World" is ironic, of course; as his tales of adventure and misadventure prove, even a millionaire actor has to earn a living and keep his laurels in check. But whoever's world it is, it was an exciting place to be Thursday night, and "real" was more than good enough.

Twitter: @MichaelMillerHB

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