At a recent Friday night performance of William Shatner’s one-man Broadway show, Shatner’s World: We Just Live in It, Shatner did not have the first word. As the only person on stage, he certainly was supposed to, but he couldn’t get off his opening line before a fan in the orchestra seats shouted, “Hey! You’re not Mr. Spock!” Perhaps the double-Stoli in the adult sippy-cup that’s now standard in the seats of Broadway theaters convinced the man that sharing an improv scene with Captain Kirk would be cool—something he could brag about with the Klingons at the next convention.
Shatner didn’t see it that way. He dropped his head as if to say, “Jesus, not these people again. Am I safe nowhere?” As the fan slinked back into his seat and Shatner tried to push on, another member of the audience chimed in: “Shatner for President! Yeah!” It was starting to look like it was going to be a long night. Shatner was playing to a home crowd, with a pocket of adult Trekkies sprinkled around the Music Box Theatre. He knew going in he could have taken a nap on stage for 90 minutes and still received a standing ovation at the end.
The 80-year-old icon seemed intent on reminding his fans that in the vast Milky Way of his life, Star Trek was but one solar mass, spanning only three seasons of a long career. He reminded the audience, with the help of black-and-white photographs projected on a giant screen behind him, that he is, and always will be, a classical Shakespearean actor. Before there was Kirk, there was Henry V at the Stratford Festival of Canada. Before Shatner shared the bridge of the USS Enterprise with Leonard Nemoy, he shared the stage with longtime friend (and fellow serious actor) Christopher Plummer.
In a presentation that at times resembled an actor showing his resume tape, Shatner leaned heavily on his hand-selected greatest hits. He joked about his long feud with George Takei (or “Hikaru Salu,” as he was known aboard the Enterprise), suggesting Takei is humorless and bitter to this day. On cue, the lights came down, Shatner took a seat on a stool, and we all watched together as up on screen popped a clip from Shatner’s 2006 Comedy Central Roast showing Takei attacking the guest of honor.
Shatner then recalled wistfully a bit he’d done for a George Lucas tribute some years ago where he confused Star Wars with Star Trek. We didn’t have to take Shatner’s word for just how funny the moment was—the lights went down again, Shatner went back to the stool, and there was the clip! (Turns out it was funny, by the way.) The big screen was busy all night, showing portions of Shatner’s commencement address at McGill University in Montreal, scenes from his 1968 TV movie Alexander the Great, clips from his years as Denny Crane on Boston Legal, and a photographic album of his characters from Tamburlaine the Great to T.J. Hooker that looked eerily like a one-man “In Memoriam” montage at the Oscars. These video interludes served to give Shatner regular breathers from the often charming, but occasionally meandering stories of his youthful indiscretion, delivered center stage from a wheeled ergonomic chair fresh off the Office Depot showroom floor.
Shatner is famous for being in on the joke, but in Shatner’s World, he doesn’t seem particularly up for joking about his legacy. The self-awareness and willing self-deprecation that have made him an ironic hero to an entire generation are largely absent from the evening. He ends the show on a heavy note with one of his spoken-word songs called “Real,” in which he tells his Star Trek fans that he doesn’t really drive a spaceship and fight aliens: “Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m real.” Shatner wants the moment to be deep and reflective, but all I could hear was the guy from the Priceline commercials.