Stardate: 2015. Northern Boulevard, the final frontier. As the cars slowly inch towards Long Island University’s Tilles Center, (@TillesCenter) there is almost an electric charge in the air. William Shatner (@WilliamShatner)is in town.
The veteran thespian performed his one man show – “Shatner’s World” – last Saturday, January 10th, to a diverse and enthusiastic audience. William Shatner comes across as he appears – boyish, entertaining, engaging, and charming. While probably best known for his work on the Star Trek television series and movies, Shatner’s reach extends from Shakespeare to TJ Hooker, from Broadway to The Twilight Zone.
With just a simple stage set consisting of a few chairs and end tables, Shatner told his tale beginning with his childhood in Canada. He spoke of his family, his father’s clothing business (which his father hoped he would join), his time as a child actor, and his experiences in McGill University (watch Dr. Shatner’s Convocation Address in 2011) struggling with business classes. Eventually Shatner found his true calling as an actor, and he regaled the audience with stories of his early days in theater, as the understudy for Christopher Plummer at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival (@StratFest).
Using occasional video clips as highlights, Shatner spoke of his time on Broadway, his entry into television, and of course… Star Trek. Beatles fans always argue amongst themselves about who their favorite Beatle was. Similarly, many of us Star Trek fans argue about who the best captain or cast member was. For many of us, the iconic Captain Kirk is a part of our childhood, our history. To me, he certainly was my favorite Beatle. Yet despite the success the show eventually received, it wasn’t an immediate hit. One of my favorite Shatner tales took place at a low point in Shatner’s life, following Star Trek’s cancellation, when he was divorced and living in a trailer in a field – relatively broke and obscure. A small boy knocked on his door and asked “Captain Kirk” whether this was his starship. “Yeah kid,” he replied. When the child asked for a tour, Shatner invited him in, pointed at the stove and said “that’s how we control the ship,” then pointed at the shower, saying “… and there’s the transporter.”
Shatner’s vignettes about his life are, like Shatner himself, funny, witty, and perfectly timed. The 83-year old actor is quite energetic, bounding from one end of the stage to the other, gesturing animatedly. Perhaps one of his best roles was his portrayal of Denny Crane in both The Practice and Boston Legal, a role that David Kelley said was written specifically for him. As Denny Crane, Shatner won two Emmy awards and a Golden Globe. Aside from his acting career, Shatner discussed his love of horses, his negotiating skills (a nod to his gig as Priceline spokesman), and his surprising musical career. After putting out a widely joked about spoken-word album in 1968 (yes, it’s the one that had his versions of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and “Mr. Tamborine Man,”), Shatner’s musical career got a second wind in 2004 when musician Ben Folds (@BenFolds) wrote and produced Shatner’s well-received second album, Has Been. Since then, Shatner has released two more albums.
Shatner closed his 2-hour show with a song from Has Been. Written by Brad Paisley, the song “Real” perfectly captured William Shatner. A sampling of the lyrics:
“I have saved the world in the movies, so naturally there’s folks who think I must know what to do. But just because you’ve seen me on your TV, doesn’t mean I’m any more enlightened than you. And while there’s a part of me, in that guy you’ve seen, up there on that screen, I am so much more. And I wish I knew the things you think I do. I would change this world for sure. But I eat and sleep and breathe and bleed and feel. Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m real.”
(A YouTube video of the song, with a slideshow about Shatner’s career is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTVXaLt-J8M).
Shatner left the stage to thunderous applause, and a room full of smiles. Live long and prosper, Mr. Shatner, live long and prosper.
The next performance at the Tilles Center is Mummenschanz, on January 25th at 3PM. For more info, visit http://tillescenter.org/events