NEW YORK — Here are two things I learned from “Shatner’s World: We Just Live in It”: William Shatner thinks George Takei can’t stand him. And Captain Kirk talks to his dog in the same way I do to mine.
Joining a diverse cross section of celebrities (Hugh Jackman, Billy Crystal, Suzanne Somers) who, over the years, have come to Broadway to talk or sing or dance their way through their autobiographies, Shatner arrives for a one-man show at the Music Box Theatre with photos from his acting youth and videos from his TV appearances. Also in tow are a slew of anecdotes — some revealing and others that just make you go, “Wha . . . ?” — about close encounters with lowland gorillas, driving a rabbi and his wife from Vancouver to Chicago, and being asked by a little boy whether the crummy RV in which he was living one destitute summer on Long Island was his spaceship. (He told him it was.)
That same summer — after the original “Star Trek” TV series folded, and Shatner was so broke he was forced to do summer stock in the burbs — he recalls lying in the RV with a TV set on his stomach, watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon and thinking: “In some small, tiny way, I’d added to this moment.”
“Shatner’s World: We Just Live in It” had its formal Broadway opening Thursday night and stays in New York until the first week of March, when the 80-year-old (!!) star of “Star Trek” and “Rescue 911,” “T.J. Hooker” and “Boston Legal” takes his show on the road to cities such as San Francisco, Cleveland, Charlotte and St. Louis. That there’s no announced stop on his Web site in the Washington area — the closest is Philadelphia — will be disappointing to his most worshipful fans, for whom this 90-minute homage to Shatner, by Shatner, is really designed.
Dressed in jeans, gray vest and dark jacket, he’s inspirationally vigorous for an octogenarian. What he has to say is not quite as inspirational, and the way he freely associates all through the show, directed by Scott Faris, imbues the proceedings with a pronounced loopiness. Was the captain of the Starship Enterprise a flake? From a story about his bareback horsemanship in a costume epic, he segues to the maudlin tale of how guilt-ridden he felt after he put his own prized stallion to stud. And then, a reminiscence about euthanizing the horse leads to some cheesy philosophizing about mortality.
“Death,” he informs us, “is the final frontier.”
From time to time in “Shatner’s World,” glimpses are provided of the ambivalence the star feels about his fame, and especially the role that has defined him more as real-life action figure than serious actor. On a globe-shaped screen, he shows a clip of an interview he conducted recently with Patrick Stewart, the classical actor who played Captain Jean-Luc Picard on “Star Trek’s” TV sequel “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” In it, Stewart remarks that if in spite of all of his Shakespearean work on the stage he’s best remembered as Picard, then that’s okay.
Stewart’s remark lifted Shatner’s spirits, he tells us. “I, too, would feel the same way,” he says, of the possibility that Captain Kirk is his legacy.
Often, you get the sense in “Shatner’s World” that Shatner isn’t sure how seriously we take him, or how seriously to take himself. This makes the show a strange entry in the genre. For those not in the die-hard Trekkie category, the sensation might be that of feeling pinned in a corner at a dinner party by someone whose stories aren’t that funny. Perhaps that’s happened with Takei.
directed by Scott Faris.
Set, Edward Pierce; lighting,
Ken Billington; sound, Peter Fitzgerald. About 90 minutes.
At Music Box Theatre,
239 W. 45th St., New York.
Visit www.telecharge.com or call 212-239-6200.