You can’t keep a good Shat down.
Just months after the cancellation of his latest television show, Shit My Dad Says, William Shatner released his seventh autobiographical work (Shatner’s Rules), a heavy metal tribute album (Seeking Major Tom), and stormed Broadway with his one man show, Shatner’s World: We Just Live In It. Now he’s kicked off a Ten City tour of the U.S. of A. and I was lucky enough to catch him in Philadelphia last night before he moves on for Minneapolis tomorrow. The Icon will turn 81 on March 22nd and will be riding high on his fourth or fifth career resurrection.
He certainly packed ‘em into the Merriam Theater with three tiers of balconied fans and curious onlookers anxiously chattering on about Star Trek, Star Trek, Star Trek, and Star Trek…and TJ Hooker (wait, that was me). As we looked down upon the stage we saw a desk & chair set on the left and a desk & chair set on the right. A starry sky nightscape projected in the background. We obviously didn’t pay for Lion King level production value; each and every dollar was going into the pockets of a monologuing Shatner.
After Shatner’s booming voice echoes across the theater, jokingly (but, not really) prohibiting the use of cameras and flashbulbs, he starts the show by giving the crowd exactly what they want. A spotlight projects its beam on the center stage and that infamous transporter sound effect begins to chime, but “No No No No” there will be absolutely no “Beam Me Up Scotty” references here, Shatner bellows that he’s had enough of that. Crowd hears Star Trek, Crowd Eats Up Star Trek. But if that’s all they wanted they had to wait, this is after all, Shatner’s World and its purpose is to drag you into its core.
His saga begins in Montreal. He speaks of the early days of childhood performance, discovering his ability to bring an audience to tears and his father to admiration. He recounts his sneaky adolescent lusting for the erotic art of Lilli St Cyr (google her, now), and he gives credit for his comic timing to the vaudevillian Dick Shawn, who got his biggest laugh when he pratfalled to his death on stage in San Diego. Just a few moments into the show, you’re either going to be with The Shat’s build-to-a-zinger comedy charm or you’re not. He’s sorta like your grandfather, in that there will be a few jokes for you to awkwardly navigate, but the life experience is soooo insanely different than yours that you’ll find a way to deal.
And, whoa, Shatner has lived a life. The early days of Canadian theater led into Broadway hits & misses, which led into live television with Steve McQueen which led into the life-changer that is Star Trek, a three-seasoned cult hit that would eventually grant Shatner the opportunity to sit inside NASAs lunar module, sell his kidney stone for $75,000, and have his balls squeezed by a horny Koko the Gorilla. And the key to all these whacky tales of wonder is Shatner’s firm grasp on self-deprecation. A tactic which appears to be an aspect to his personality that came late in life…sometime between the eerily serious but goofy Dirty Harry brutality of Thomas Jefferson Hooker and the unapologetic shilling of the Priceline Negotiator.
As the show moves along his timeline, episodes of his life are played upon the stage’s starry backdrop. We get glimpses of his saddle-less (and shirtless) Alexander the Great, a lovefest interview with self-proclaimed Trekkie, Oscar Winner, and one-eyed Klingon badass Christopher Plummer, and the infamous Comedy Central Roast in which the internet spawned nemesis George Takei tells him what he can do with that horse he road in on. And it’s also where we get some insight on when Shatner came to terms with his life as Captain Kirk. A snippet from his documentary, The Captains reveals a blessing from his Next Generation replacement Patrick Stewart, who gives Shatner permission to accept his place in pop culture history. It’s a fun moment between actors that can also be seen streaming instantly on Netflix, right now.
Shatner closes out the show in quintessential Shat form…with a song. Probably, no other product in his catalogue has caused more butts of jokes than the release of his album, The Transformed Man. It’s a beautiful bit of Warholian madness that has to be consumed at least once (or put into an infinite loop as I do) by proper nerds. And even though I’m sad to say he didn’t close it out with a screaming, drug-fueled rendition of “Mr. Tambourine Man” I was happy enough to be left with it’s more culturally accepted byproduct, the hipstery Ben Folds produced Has Been. Shatner leaves the audience with a message of love and encouragement, telling us that it was his inability to say “No” that brought him to the stage today and forever trapped us in his World.
As I shuffled down the balcony and made my way through the lobby, I was infected with the true power of Shatner. Near the exit of the Merriam Theater, not far from the ATM machine, was the table of Shatner Swag. I gladly purchased two Shatner’s World posters, a t-shirt, a magnet, a stress ball, a coffee mug, and a Shat Happens baseball cap. I walked down Broad Street decked out in full nerd glory and was filled with giddy, nostalgic joy. My wife (who had not come kicking nor screaming) and I discussed what Shat show we’d consume next. She wanted Denny Crane, Denny Crane. I was in the mood for Shatner’s special brand of Oedipal serial murder, 1974’s Impulse. We found time for both.
It’s Big Boo-Tay,
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