Growing up in Montreal, Shatner used to skip school to go to one of the last remaining vaudeville houses, the Gayety, to see Lili St. Cyr, the stripper. At the same time he was introduced to, and inspired by, the comedy of vaudeville’s baggy pants comedians.
Comedy is not where Shatner started out, however. He has had a legitimate theater career even working with Tyrone Guthrie at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and on Broadway. As a juvenile, Shatner understudied Christopher Plummer in Henry V. One day Plummer was out, and with no rehearsal Shatner had to go on, receiving accolades for his performance.
But for Shatner’s World, it is the vaudeville comedy that sets the tone. Frequently his stories have long build-ups with a punch-line not worth the distance. In one, he meets Coco, a gorilla who communicates with sign language. A horny male gorilla is in an adjacent cage next to them causing a racket. Shatner provides the dialogue for the amorous primate. He tries to infuse the story with some deeper meaning, relating it to various kinds of love, but it doesn’t go anywhere. Again, leading up to a disappointing button. There is a story of the camping trip Shatner took with his children where he discovered a rat in their camper (he hates rats). Again the punchline is not worth the time it took to play it out. There is no writer credit in the Playbill so I am assuming Shatner wrote it.
So as not to disappoint his fans, Shatner even gives us a sampling of his singing. Well he doesn’t really sing, he speaks. He actually plays clips from a couple of his albums and sings one song live. I’m sorry to report that he does not do “Rocket Man,” which garnered him a cult following after he sang the song on an awards show in the 1970s.
Director Scott Faris has Shatner using a rolling office chair as a multipurpose prop throughout the evening. Unfortunately Mr. Shatner must not have had very much time to get associated with the chair as he seemed to have trouble negotiating it. Trying to use the chair as a horse and a motorcycle and an airplane just struck me as silly.
The scenic design by Edward Pierce is simple and tasteful. About halfway upstage is a black curtain that actually turns out to be a star drop. There are cocktail tables down-left and down-right with stools. The projections are on a large disk hung at center stage.
Shatner’s fans will have a great time in Shatner’s World. It’s a modestly funny evening with no real belly laughs. It can’t be said that Shatner is not an accomplished man, but Shecky Greene he’s not.
Shatner’s World: We Just Live in It is playing at the Music Box Theatre through March 4, 2012.