William Shatner Boldly Talks Broadway, Music & 'Tambourine' Debacle
The incomparable William Shatner is coming to Broadway in mid-February with his one man show wonderfully titled "Shatner's World: We Just Live In It." The octogenarian (nearing 81) "Star Trek" captain and veteran TV actor talked to Billboard.com about the "unusual" way he plans on entertaining theater-goers, plus we chat about his quirk-filled music career and how it started out serious, turned into a joke and has now morphed into well-received albums with star-studded collaborators.
Describe "Shatner's World" for us.
It's a series of um, I'm trying to characterize it correctly, I want to make it interesting enough that you'll come and see it. Here I go, the story is the dramatization of many incidents in my life that are both funny and sad or both, with the help of projection and stills but mostly the art of storytelling. I will entertain you for two hours. It's a fairly unusual way of doing theater but it's primal in that it's me and you and I believe that I will give you your money's worth and by the end of the evening you will leave the theater happier than when you came in.
You released an album "Seeking Major Tom" last year.
'Seeking Major Tom' was my idea, what happened to Major Tom after David Bowie got him locked in a capsule.
You got some amazing people like Sheryl Crowe and Brad Paisley on that set.
Well the truth of the matter is we asked them and then in some cases they got a hold of us.
Your last couple of albums have been well received but that hasn't always been the case.
(Laughs) I was serious about it to begin with but due to an incident which I talk about (in the show) with Johnny Carson I had to take it less seriously for quite a long time. I had to perform "Mr. Tamborine Man" out of context and without the context you didn't know what I was doing. That hadn't occurred to me.
What was the context?
Well the idea of "The Transformed Man" was to take classical literature and put music behind it, perform it and then segue into literature of the present day which were some of those good songs that had good words to it and of course music so the material in the classical literature would either affirm the meaning of the song or be in contrast to the song. For example Cyrano de Bergerac's speech ends, 'I may climb to no great heights but I will climb alone,' and then it segues into a drug song, 'Mr. Tambourine Man,' of a man who can't climb alone, who needs the sustenance of a drug.
Listen to "Theme from Cyrano / Mr. Tambourine Man":
So, why didn't you just perform the whole suite on 'The Tonight Show' with Johnny?
Well the producer wouldn't let me do the two cuts. He said, 'Well that's six minutes, we only have time for three.' So I did the three minute cut of the song and I looked over at Johnny Carson while I was doing it and I saw him mouthing, 'What the fuck?' That's one of the stories I tell and from that moment on nobody took me seriously and I couldn't take myself very seriously.
What role will music play in "Shatner's World"?
I just want to say the whole musical thing, which comes at the end of my Broadway show, is a pean of praise to the idea of saying 'yes' to life. So I said yes to making that album ("Transformed Man"), then I said yes to doing some more music and out of that came music which has been extremely well received. I wrote 10 of the 12 songs with Ben Folds (on album "Has Been") and I'll do excerpts of those songs in my show and then the new album, "Seeking Major Tom" which was well received as well. So yes, I thought my music career started out of my love of the sound of words, I thought it was serious enough and began to take it less seriously but as of late what I had intended all along seems to be coming out.
It's so great that it's turned around for you...
How great is that! Think about how easy it would have been if it started out properly (laughs).
Tickets are on sale for "Shatner's World: We Just Live In It," which begins a limited run on Feb. 16 at the Music Box Theater in NYC. In March, the actor takes his show on the road for several dates around the country. Get details here.