William Shatner is one of those actors who have rarely disappointed. When he’s good, he’s good… And often, when he’s bad, he’s even better.
Like Nicholas Cage, and Vincent Price, Shatner is an actor who isn’t afraid to chew the scenery, spit it out and take another bite and has oftentimes delivered a “memorable performance” in an otherwise forgettable movie.
His career has been anything but ordinary, ranging from the sublime (His early career as a classical actor performing Sophocles and Shakespeare) to the ridiculous (as the Chairman role in the US production of Iron Chef, https://youtu.be/bJAWjtktv0w> and warning the American public about the dangers of turkey frying <https://youtu.be/cLOgwRkRVl8>)) with the occasional detour in to the downright weird, such as starring in an art house horror movie titled Incubus, <https://www.salon.com/2000/05/03/incubus/>filmed in the artificially constructed language of Esperanto and was rumored to be the subject of curse which legend has it, caused several people involved in the production to meet tragic ends in the wake of the film’s release.
Then of course there’s also his status as enduring pop culture icon with his portrayal of Captain James T. Kirk in the Star Trek franchise, which still remains part of the public consciousness over 50 years later after the original show went off the air. All of this means that the man has lived through than enough of a fascinating life to have a story or two to tell.
The mood was set by the support act Pablo Vasquez, a Spanish guitar duo from New Zealand, featuring Elroy Finn (from THAT well known musical family) and Jol Mullholland who improbably share the name of their act with the notorious Texan murderer dubbed the “Vampire Killer, closing their set with a rendition of the Star Trek theme.
Shatner strode on stage a few minutes later and after a brief introduction, threw himself straight in to his performance. He bounds around the stage from side to side with an enthusiasm that belies the fact that he’s well into his ninth decade. He managed to keep the crowd entertained with the barest of props.
A screen to show some film clips and an office chair, which doubled as a motorbike, a horse, a space ship and a dance partner at various times during the show. Shatner is a gifted storyteller and he conjured up an intimate atmosphere that made Hamer Hall feel like a chat around a campfire.
He began the show out dropping one-liners like a borscht belt comedian and recounted how he discovered the love of theatre that would shape his life by sneaking into before expressing his admiration for the late comedian Dick Shawn whose routine provided a lot of early inspiration for Shatner on how to work a crowd. Shawn died on stage after taking a pratfall in search of a laugh and Shatner mused that it would be a good way to go out.
This set the tone for the evening’s performance. While the show contained more than it’s fair share of laughs, there was also a touch of melancholy that pervaded the show with Shatner frequently musing on the subject of mortality. There was more than a few laughs to be had, but a lot of the show was played straight. But if things ever started to get maudlin, he turned it around to land a punch and left things on an upbeat note. I’m sure most of the crowd was drawn to this show because of Shatner’s performance of Captain James Kirk in the original Star Trek TV series.
It’s Shatner’s most iconic role, but it was well past the halfway mark before he touched the subject in any great detail. Instead the focus of the show was a look at William Shatner the man, than the characters he has played. Shatner has had a reputation for self-aggrandisement and this infamously was reported to be a source of friction between himself and his Star Trek cast mates, but it looks as if he is prepared to poke a bit of fun at himself. He touches on his feud with George Takei by showing a clip form the 2006 Comedy Central Celebrity Roast as well as the occasion he was miscast as the MC of a Star Wars event playing tribute to George Lucas.
For the most part, the show is a chronological overview of Shatner’s life. There’s lots of hilarious anecdotes like stories of his mother faking her birthday when the family dined out so they would get free dessert, or of going on a road trip with a rabbi and getting pulled over by a cop.
Shatner’s fondness for animals is a prominent theme. If you ever see the 1977 film Kingdom of the Spiders, a low budget eco-horror movie, you will see Shatner is taking great care not to actually step on the spiders, unlike some of his co- stars. He recounted a story about the time he accidentally seduced Koko the gorilla and received a squirrel grip from her. His anecdote about the death of his prized horse, Sultan’s Great Day is quite touching in contrast to a story about his father’s funeral that is played for laughs.
He uses this event to pivot the narrative to the story of how he prepared for the death of Captain Kirk in the Star Trek Generations film, and how the death of the character had started him musing about his own death. But just as things were starting to get heavy, he was able to cap off the description of his cinematic death with the line “finally the bridge was on the Captain!”
Shatner’s career hit a lean period in the period following the cancellation of the original Star Trek series and he found himself working in a succession of B- movies because he was a “guy who answered his phone and showed up on time”. At that time Star Trek was just another show and the role of Kirk may have felt like a millstone around his neck at the time, but Shatner recalled tales of being invited by NASA to view the Lunar Excursion Module from the Apollo space program, and to record the wake up call for the Discovery Space Shuttle had led him to come to terms with the character and after a conversation with Patrick Steward, his successor to the Enterprise’s captain chair, that it was not a bad thing to be remembered for.
The performance concluded with a nod to his musical career with a medley of his greatest “hits” punctuated by the occasional self deprecating aside, and culminating with a rendition of his song Real from the Has Been album for the finale of the evening. It’s a touching moment. The song is a contemplation of the differences between Shatner, the Man and his screen incarnations and nicely sums up the theme of the night.
Of all the characters that William Shatner has portrayed, perhaps the one on display that night was the most human.