A glimpse into “Shatner’s World” at the Riverside

By - Mar 19th, 2012 03:42 pm
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William Shatner on stage at the Riverside. (Photos: Erik Ljung)

Standing in front of a projection screen cosmos surrounded by twinkling LED stars, William Shatner took the stage at Milwaukee’s Riverside Theater on Sunday, where he shared anecdotes from his personal and professional life for his one-man show, “Shatner’s World – We Just Live in It.” While physically alone on stage, Shatner wore the hat of comedian, theatre actor, radio personality, television star, university student, father, animal breeder, humanitarian, and the list goes on.

Clad in jeans and a sport coat, the quirky icon discussed his introduction to the world of acting and the long road that followed. At the age of six, he went on stage at a summer camp not knowing what to do, and left to an applauding audience. Smitten with “the muse” at age 13, he worked as a radio actor in his native Canada.

Shatner lucidly recalls his time at McGill University in Montreal, bridging the half-century between then and his arrival in Milwaukee. Describing himself as “the worst student ever,” his perusal of acting gigs over a range of mediums left little time for his actual studies, however, he graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce (eventually receiving an honorary doctorate). Degree in hand, Shatner brushed aside his father’s disapproval and began training as a Shakespearian actor.

The projection screen at the Riverside faded between photos of his parents, graduation, and finally Shatner himself in full Shakespeare-era garb.

His first big role was as an understudy to lead actor Christopher Plummer, playing Henry V. When Plummer fell ill on opening night, Shatner took the stage delivering what he comically detailed as nearly flawless. Through a winding semi-professional path, Shatner eventually landed on Broadway in 1956 in Tamburlaine the Great.

It was also around this time that Shatner developed his now trademark speech pattern while filling dead air on stage. Shatner recalls how the somewhat random, varied timing and tones of his sentences drew the interest of an audience all but ready to walk out on the performance.

With a beaming stage reputation, Shatner moved onto the big screen, television, and music. From starship commander to spoken wordsmith and Priceline negotiator, his cultural popularity saw peaks and valleys. This is where his professional exploits took a back seat in “Shatner’s World.”

Shatner is an open book. He speaks vividly about personal passions and relationships, sometimes sitting and whispering, other times throwing his hands up and screaming.

Something ingrained in Shatner is an attachment to animals. He is a serious horse enthusiast, and has owned a myriad of American Saddlebreds over the years. He laments about his first horse, Great Day, whom he saw morph from fantastic stallion to overused breeding animal. In front of a projected photo of him and his 11-year-old dog Starbuck, Shatner explained his fascination with breeding and tending Doberman Pinschers.

He regaled the audience with a skiing trip gone awry after coming face to face with one of his greatest fears, rats. Spoiler alert, the story concludes with Shatner knee deep in snow wearing only his tighty whities, wielding a children’s ski pole while the black rat disappears into the night, unharmed and well fed.

In a very Shatneresque humanitarian effort, he funded an entire Habitat for Humanity project from selling a passed kidney stone. Shatner smiled, boasting, “Currently there is a family near New Orleans living in the house my kidney stone bought.”

He’s also been tapped by NASA to deliver the final wake up call on the final day of the Discovery space mission (to the theme song of Star Trek, naturally).

“Shatner’s World – We Just Live in It” was an eclectic and eccentric sampling from the life of a man who shares those same traits. It’s no easy task packing 60-plus years of show business into a two-hour set.

His act could change every night with a different collection of life stories while maintaining the same level of entertainment. Shatner connects with his audience with stories that paint him as someone famous, but also as a real, everyday guy.

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