Welcome everyone. I’m Christopher DeFilippis and this is DeFlip Side.
William Shatner has always been something of a walking one-man show, so his decision to actually mount a stage production to showcase his unique talents may seem a bit redundant. But mount one he has, and the result is Shatner’s World.
Shatner’s World came to Broadway last month, and I was lucky enough to see the world’s biggest living Science Fiction icon live. I’ve never been shy about expressing Shatner love here on DeFlip Side, and it turns out that I’m in good company, because neither is William Shatner.
Part clip show, part memoir, part shtick, Shatner’s World is billed as “A Journey Through a Stellar Career.” And though the show is—necessarily—fueled by Shatner’s endless store of ego and swagger, it isn’t nearly as self-aggrandizing as you might expect. Don’t get me wrong. Shatner goes on about himself for more than an hour and a half, but he’s self-deprecating, contemplative and—most importantly—sincere.
After kicking things off with an obligatory nod to the Trek fans that unquestionably make up the majority of his audience—a joke about beaming onto stage—Shatner launches into a scatter-shot monologue that presents a rough timeline of his performance journey—from his start on Canadian radio to his latest psychedelic music project—spotlighting his career launching turn as Henry V in the Shakespearian Stratford Festival of Canada, filling in for a suddenly sick Christopher Plummer. He recalled the fateful night they asked him to go on:
So that signature bravado was there from the start, and it served him well because his performance received almost universal acclaim. And though he says he’d never put himself in a similar position these days, in many ways he has with this one-man experiment. Unfortunately it isn’t quite the same unqualified triumph.
Though enjoyable overall, Shatner’s World is, like Shatner himself, a bit off-kilter. As he goes from his introductory remarks into a patter of vaudevillian one-liners, you may think—as I did—okay, what have I gotten myself into here? It begins to make sense when he starts waxing nostalgic about Canadian vaudeville, but for a while you feel like you’re up the Mutara Nebula without a paddle. (Wocka Wocka!)
But as Shatner builds upon this with other tales of his young adulthood and determination to become an actor, recalling the live TV gigs that led up to Star Trek, the show finds a kind of free-form groove, and by that time you’re enjoying the ride, and looking forward to the next unexpected left turn.
But what about the Star Trek stories, you ask? Because I know that’s what you’re all really interested in. To be honest, there is no “Star Trek” section to the show. Trek is threaded throughout, waltzing along side the monologue’s other myriad moving parts, stepping forward occasionally and then making way for a horse rearing story or an anecdote about passing a kidney stone the set of Boston Legal.
But Shatner does relate an especially interesting story about the positive relationship that grew between Star Trek and NASA during the Apollo missions. Everyone working on Star Trek loved the space program because whenever a rocket went up so did ratings. And NASA liked Star Trek, because it could then use the show to promote the space program.
Fast forward to the night of July 20, 1969. Star Trek is off the air and Shatner is broke, living in his camper, staring alternately down at his tiny TV and up at the moon as Neil Armstrong takes his one giant leap. The irony, he says, was not lost on him.
In another poignant instance, Shatner discusses an interview he did with Patrick Stewart for his recent documentary called The Captains that lent him the perspective he needed to finally and fully embrace his legacy as Captain Kirk.
For Trek fans who’ve heard all the stock stories—and Spock stories—it’s these deeply personal reflections that catapult the stage show beyond the level of a glorified con appearance.
But even with everything it has going for it, Shatner’s World still has one fundamental flaw. While Shatner is by turns comical, whimsical, serious and sad, he never manages to pull off vulnerable. While undoubtedly honest, there’s still a veneer to Shatner’s demeanor that keeps him at an emotional arm’s length from the audience. And because of this lack of intimacy, Shatner’s World isn’t the transformative theater experience it could be. It never becomes more than the sum of its oddly-joined parts.
But hey, maybe I’m asking too much of the big guy. Because those parts are still entertaining in their own right. Hell, Shatner’s live performance of the song “Real” from his Has Been album is worth the price of admission alone.
Unfortunately for those of you listening in New York, Shatner’s World has finished its limited Broadway run. But the rest of you are in luck because Shatner has taken it on the road, touring major cities across the country. Scroll down for a link to show dates and tickets, and by all means get out and see it.
Shatner’s World may not be the giant theatrical leap you’re hoping for, but it does offer perhaps your last, best opportunity to witness William Shatner do what he does best: celebrate William Shatner.
The promotional materials, performance excerpts and photos in this episode of DeFlip Side are used courtesy of the Shatner’s World website. Please don’t sue me.