William Shatner must be one of world’s great dinner guests. You can imagine sitting next to him for a couple hours and listening to myriad name-dropping anecdotes: that time he served as Christopher Plummer’s understudy in Henry V, or that time he costarred on Playhouse 90 with a forgetful Lon Chaney Jr., or that time he met Koko, the sign-language-using gorilla. You’ve heard some of the stories before. Most of them go on too long. But Shatner is never less than charming. Anyhow, it’s just dinner.
Fifty years after appearing on Broadway in A Shot in the Dark, Shatner has returned to the Great White Way with a new agreeably ramshackle one-man show (running through March 4, then touring in 15 cities through April 19). The title — Shatner’s World: We Just Live in It — is both a statement of intent and a warning. For the entirety of the running time, Shatner presents an energetic look back at a lifetime spent living at the center of the universe. Shatner’s story follows a rough chronological outline, from his youth sneaking into burlesque shows in Montreal to his career as a Star Trek captain, right up to his present status as a self-mocking meta-star and a horse-collecting gentleman of leisure. There are regular tangents.
Shatner’s trademark baritone staccato is in full effect. When he describes his first time playing Henry V on stage, he doesn’t say, ”I had a good performance.” He says: ”The MUSE! Was. On ME!” Every story is delivered at the same pitch. Because there’s no real connective material, Shatner’s World feels like the stage equivalent of watching 90 minutes of movie trailers for Michael Bay movies.
Early in the show, Shatner remembers a moving conversation with his father. The elder Shatner, concerned that his son would never be successful as an actor, assured young Billy that he could always take over the family clothing business. ”There are times in my life,” Shatner says, ”when I wish I could go back to that comfort.” It’s a rare introspective moment, quickly left behind.
At 80 years old, Shatner has a seemingly bottomless reserve of energy, and Shatner’s World is undeniably fun. But the most telling moments of the show come when the lights dim, and the on-stage video screen plays Shatner’s greatest hits: a Star Trek soliloquy, his Comedy Central roast, the final sequence of Boston Legal. In the corner of the stage, you can see Shatner watching Shatner, grinning from ear to ear. He’s his own best audience. It’s Shatner’s show: We’re just living through it. C+
(TICKETS: Ticketmaster.com or 800-982-2787)