Before the show began, aside from the legendary name on the bill, most of those fans went in not knowing exactly what to expect. Like me, many were prepared for the wacky and the bizarre, but the evening had other things in store. Instead of a show full of spoken word and campy humour, the audience was treated to a clever, honest, and touching look at a man that has become a modern cultural staple.
The sprawling three hour autobiography took the shape of an on-stage interview with supporting video and photo highlights, with radio talent Alan Cross taking the reigns as curator. A legend in his own right, Cross acted as the triggerman, guiding Shatner through the exploration in a format well-suited for discussing his life so tirelessly. The discussions themselves were broad, colourful, clever, and heartfelt. The audience was treated to stories spanning from the actor’s passion for his horses to his childhood inspiration by burlesque house comedians; He mused over his work on Broadway, and brooded over his betrayal of a friend (an ancient wound that still seemed fresh when it was mentioned).
Surprisingly, though, the honorary doctor’s two biggest claims to fame didn’t play as much a part in the show as you’d expect. While Shatner spoke at length about his musical experiments and the reasoning behind his unusual vocal style, his actual singing was kept to a minimum (only allowing for a single rendition of “The Hockey Song” by Stompin Tom). And, while Shatner’s defining role as Captain Kirk in the Star Trek franchise had a share of the spotlight, it was by no means the driving force of the night. When it was on the table, though, its discussion focused on his acceptance of its legacy, and acted as a segue to his own reflections on mortality and love. It was blended with talk of the deaths of his troubled wife and his beloved father, and of his growing family and rediscovered happiness. “Love is a continuum,” he explained.
If I make his themes sound contrived, though, The blame is all mine. What was most surprising about the night was the actor’s sincerity. Of course, for humour’s sake, a great deal of what he offered up was glazed with his signature self-deprecation and feigned egotism. But through it all, there was something warm and genuine in what the audience was witnessing, like a wise old man reflecting with an attentive grandchild. Of course, with William Shatner pushing 80, I suppose the shoe fits. Even though their legends might never age, our icons do. And, while events like this might seem like some exercise in vanity, both the actor and audience were thrilled to have the chance to share the night together. So, why not indulge? As Dr. Shatner told his Toronto fans, “Life is short. You have to extract every moment from it.”
Review by Chad Hutchings.