Shatner has grown protective of the captain he once played. The resentment he once felt for the spaceman who eclipsed the Shakespearean (we were told about his last-minute Henry V) has vanished. It is as Kirk that Shatner will be remembered, and he has come to be proud of that. Naturally the show starts with him walking onto the stage to the cheesy cosmic woo-woo of the Star Trek theme. It’s Kirk’s soundtrack and his too. Then there was the moment when he was standing beneath an image of his much younger self — prime Kirk, immortal — projected onto an enormous circular screen with a hint of some strange new world about it. And yes, yes, to see that was something. A projection of Shatner as a young, half-naked barbarian in a Broadway Tamburlaine the Great was rather less so, and (if I remember correctly) a shot of Jeff Flake from Barbary Coast (oh, look it up) was even more less so, but all these Shatners — and there were plenty to choose from — were reminders that this actor still wants us to know that he contains multitudes.
But back to Shatnersworld.com for a mission statement and eccentric typography: “I haven’t saved the universe countless times (or even once), but a part of me is Captain Kirk. I’m not a hard-bitten, L.A. cop, but a part of me is T. J. Hooker. I’m not an addled (well, maybe), high-powered attorney, but a part of me is Denny Crane. I’ve had many other roles, on-screen and off . . . Husband, father, friend. Horseman, Singer, Philanthropist,NEGOTIATOR. All of the parts contribute to the whole, AND IT MAKES FOR ONE HELL OF A STORY!”
Maybe, but, as entertaining as Shatner tried to make it, it was not the story that many in the audience had come to hear. What they were craving (well, I know I was) was the old campfire tales, and a curated trip back to the yesterdays we had all, one way or another, shared with a starship. They were hoping for Nimoy gossip, Scotty dish, and the frequently told untold truth about Gene Roddenberry. But if their — our — wishes had been fulfilled, Shatner’s World would have been spinning through a very well-traveled orbit indeed, that of the Star Trek convention circuit, more suited to some Sheraton somewhere in nowhere than to Broadway. The tickets would have sold, nonetheless. The fans are like that.
Like Star Trek in all its incarnations, they just keep coming back. And so does Shatner. The man who once would rather have no longer been Kirk now most definitely still is. To have devoted more of his one-man show to exploring his own long relationship with Kirk would not exactly have been to go where, well, you know, but it would have added meat to the meta. Instead we had to make do with an anecdote or two that only hinted at the strangeness of a life dominated by a collective fantasy that would not go away.
Shatner concluded with a song, “Real,” from Has Been, the album with a characteristically canny, self-mocking title that he released a few years back, just one of a series of recordings that have fed off the notoriety of earlier musical catastrophes. No, he cannot carry a tune, but Shatner, self-congratulatory, self-mocking, unstoppable, is not the type to let a technicality like that hold him back, so he sort of sang, sort of seriously:
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.
— Andrew Stuttaford is a contributing editor of National Review Online.