William Shatner Humbly Hams It Up at the Orpheum in Shatner's World
William "Bad Billy" Shatner's one-man show Shatner's World played for one big night at the Orpheum Theatre on Sunday to an audience filled with young fans, old fans, and more than a few tolerant significant others. And everyone had a great time. There was a fair amount of get-it-out-of-the-way Star Trek pandering, such as the theme being played twice -- though, in fairness, the second time was while playing a clip of Shatner waking up the crew of the Discovery. Some would call including this in a show about your life to be the sign of a massive ego. Well, perhaps, but we would also call it adhering to the Bialystockian principle, "Flaunt it if ya got it!" Did NASA ask you to record a wake-up call for the last day of the last space shuttle mission ever? Okay, then.
Joan Marcus Which is bigger -- the legacy or the man? Hard to tell.
Otherwise, the show was a mix of anecdotes about his life and career in showbiz, including fascinating-to-me tidbits like his love for baggy-pants comics, his adventures in Canadian Shakespeare, and his work in live television. Shatner presented plenty of pictures from those days on the screen behind him, and my, he was a handsome devil.
Much of this was not so fascinating to the fidgety teenagers sitting in front of us who were inexplicably bored by the Paddy Chayefsky references. We heard the expected stories about Star Trek (including finally embracing its role in his life, which made me a little teary) and making B-movies, and of his love of horses. Oh, horse stories. So very many horse stories.
Horses are Shanter's passion, but the horse stories also dragged down the pace of a show that, while never not entertaining, suffered from a lack of a structure. It could have easily lost 30 minutes, bouncing as it did from anecdote to anecdote, often with no sense of connective tissues -- and the only thing the man loves more than horse stories are shaggy dog stories. (We love those, too.)
But what matters is that Shatner has fun telling stories, and you can't help but have fun listening to them. Of course, at a sprightly 80 years old he's earned the right to work blue, and I got the feeling the teenagers' parents were not expecting him to tell a story about a horse that "expected to get laid, but got a hand job instead." (You can see Shatner as Capt. Kirk on a horse in the clip below.)
Shatner also full-on embraces his musical legacy. Seeing the cover of The Transformed Man project on the screen behind him warmed my heart-cockles -- we had that LP growing up! -- and he closed the show singing "Real" from his more recent platter Has Been, and the exit music was his Henry Rollins duet "I Can't Get Behind That."
Fun fact: William Shatner is in on the joke. He embraces the joke. To paraphrase a running gag from the show, he can -- and does -- work with it. And when he got to one of those big Shatnerian moments in the show -- and there were plenty of them over the course of the evening -- he earned them. Y'know, everyone laughs about the infamous "KHAAAAN!" line, but nobody mentions his monologue to Carol Marcus in the very next scene, easily one of his most nuanced performances. (PSA: Shatner impressions are officially over. Done. Passé. Boring. Move along, please.) (Or, leave your best text-based Shatner impression in the comments!)
Accusations of overinflated ego aside, at no point does Shatner imply that he inherently deserves all his blessings, nor does he shy away from the darker times in his life, and the mistakes he's made. Ultimately, he posits himself as a guy who's worked hard, has learned that better things happen when you say "yes" rather than "no," and who doesn't intend to stop anytime soon.
I should do so well at 80. Or even half that.