Oddly enough, the most interesting personal observation to be pondered in Shatner's World: We Just Live In It is spoken, not by the titular William Shatner, but by Patrick Stewart. In a television clip, a conversation between the two captains of the Starship Enterprise, Stewart explains how, despite his acclaim as a classical actor of the stage, he's quite certain that his role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation, is what he will ultimately be remembered for. And he's fine with that.
Shatner's reaction, in the clip, is that Stewart's words have helped him realize that he, too, would be fine with being ultimately remembered as Captain James T. Kirk. It's a wonderful moment of two artists sharing a unique bond, unless you think too much about how for Stewart it means not being remembered for his Macbeth, Prospero and Othello and for Shatner it means not being remembered for Denny Crane, "Rocket Man" and encouraging us to name our own hotel and airline prices.
And for someone who's fine with being remembered for the role he played for three seasons on the original Star Trek, he doesn't devote much time to talking about it in his ninety minute solo show, directed by Scott Faris. Sure, his first entrance involves a fun little transporter joke, and he doesn't waste much time before he's trashing George Takai for not being funny, but nobody should attend expecting detailed accounts of his television experiences.
Do expect to learn many intimate details about horse breeding (it's not as pleasant for the male horse as you would think), an analysis of Dick Shawn's brilliance as a comic (no argument here) and some fond memories of hitchhiking across America, drooling for burlesque queen Lily St. Cyr and wanting to be like the baggy-pants clowns who knocked out corny jokes between strip-teases.
At age 81, Shatner is an energetic, slightly salty-tongued, good guy with a likeable stage presence. He's like the somewhat eccentric relative you get to see on holidays who always has some fun memories to share. And for fans, that can be a perfectly enjoyable way to spend an evening. Just don't visit the Music Box Theatre expecting to see something, well, theatrical. Billy Crystal, Elaine Stritch, Carrie Fisher and especially John Leguizamo have all achieved success with bio-solo shows by approaching them as plays involving serious character study. Shatner's on stage chatting for an hour and a half and not really investing anything especially dramatic.
Yes, there's talk of the tragic death of his wife, Nerine, and his other difficulties with divorce and raising his three children, but the actor seems more excited about anecdotes involving meeting Koko the Gorilla, understudying Christopher Plummer and how, he claims, he single-handedly turned The World of Suzy Wong from a flop Broadway drama into a hit Broadway comedy by adopting his now trademark acting style of spurts of fast-talking interrupted by abrupt pauses.
The running theme throughout the show is his admirable belief in taking chances. (Yes, he does talk about his recording career.) "It's easy to say 'no,'" he advises. "It's risky to say 'yes.'" Shatner certainly took a risk in bringing this show to Broadway. I only wish someone had asked him if he wanted a good playwright to collaborate on the text with him so he could have responded, "yes."
Photo by Joan Marcus.
Bookwriter/composer/lyricist Eric Schorr receives an enchanting production of his chamber musical Tokio Confidential from director Johanna McKeon; lovely visuals, good acting and a strong singing ensemble. But while his story of an American woman's unusual adventure in 19th Century Japan has an interesting setup, the plot's silly second act turn and an overload of extraneous material keep the evening from truly satisfying.
The charming Jill Paice, whose beautiful soprano is put to good use by the delicate score, plays Isabella Archer (almost, but not quite the same name as the protagonist in Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady), an American Civil War widow who arrives in Japan to explore the newly-opened land that so enamored her husband. Upon arriving, she finds her sponsor has recently passed away and she would have been forced to leave on the next ship if not for the kindness of Ernest Osmond (Jeff Kready), an American who teaches western art history to the Japanese, although he feels they have an insufficient appreciation for their own art.
After Isabella becomes fascinated by an elaborate tattoo she sees on a local, Ernest introduces her to Horiyoshi (Mel Maghuyop), who is in the awkward position of being the country's most acclaimed tattoo artist in a time when the government, fearing it would seem barbaric to foreigners, bans the practice.
There's a loophole, however. Tattooing foreigners is permitted and when Isabella expresses a desire to have her back fully covered with Horiyoshi's ink, they begin regular sessions, much to the consternation of the artist's lover, Sachiko (a sweet-singing and subtly funny Manna Nichols). A romance ensues and so does a plan to see to it that Horiyoshi's work is seen beyond the limits of where Isabella chooses to travel. And that's when the plot gets silly.
Though Schorr's music is attractive, his lyrics lack the complexity of the story being told, and the ghost-like presence of Isabella's husband, Ralph (Benjamin McHugh), along with the presentation of a Noh play attended by Ulysses S. Grant (Mike O'Carroll), who is confronted by the widow whose husband was killed in the Battle of Shiloh, add little of significance. However, David M. Barber's graceful projections of Japanese-style art work that are choreographed onto upstage screens throughout the musical, make valuable visual embellishments.
Photo of Mel Maghuyop and Jill Paice by Ellis Gaskell.
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