“Star Trek” legend William Shatner was beamed up to Madison this past Friday, as the prolific actor took his Midwest tour to the Orpheum Theater.
The night began with a screening of 1982’s “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” which features an incredible cast and classic scenes. “Wrath of Khan” was a massive success during its initial release, outperforming its predecessor both critically and commercially.
As someone who never watched the film, seeing it for the first time with waves of “Star Trek” fans reaffirmed the series’ lasting appeal. Each zinger from Dr. Leonard McCoy (played by the late DeForest Kelley) made the crowd burst into laughter, while the light show of Khan’s spaceship exploding was met with cheers and applause — almost as if you were watching fireworks on Independence Day.
With an excitement that filled the darkened room, the energy made it feel like the movie just premiered at the box office. This energy skyrocketed when William Shatner walked onstage to a standing ovation.
"William Shatner’s quick wit and wisdom led to great stories, many of which broke off into hilarious tangents."
The show’s moderator asked Shatner questions submitted from the audience, which ranged from “Who are your favorite lawyers?” (a reference to his partnership with Midwest law firm Hupy and Abraham) to “Did you have a favorite female costar on ‘Star Trek’?”
“Leonard [Nimoy] would wear a wig every so often,” Shatner replied to the latter.
The actor’s quick wit and wisdom led to great stories, many of which broke off into hilarious tangents. Some of these stemmed from his hobbies, which include horseback riding, race car driving and live theater.
Shatner once got food poisoning on the opening night of his one-man Broadway show, “Shatner’s World: We Just Live in It.” He cited in vivid, verging-on-vulgar detail about how there were “juices flowing from every orifice.” When his Depends had failed him, Shatner played it off by telling the New York theatergoers there were “technical difficulties.”
He went on to discuss his relationships with the “Star Trek” cast, namely Ricardo Montalban, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley. The “Southern gentleman,” Kelley, once confided in Shatner about being afraid of losing his memory. With this newfound knowledge, Shatner played a prank on his co-star before shooting an episode of the show.
He asked Nimoy to distract Kelley after he put a bagel in the toaster, at which point Shatner took a knife and removed the bagel. Kelley became perplexed after the toaster popped and nothing was there, and it wasn’t until the second stolen bagel that he caught onto the joke.
When Kelley finally found out, he wasn’t too pleased.
“He didn’t speak to me for about a week, but I loved him!” Shatner said.
"For every laugh-out-loud anecdote, there was also time devoted to more serious topics."
One of the night’s more unexpected moments happened when an audience member named Trina approached the stage for a birthday kiss. The woman who received the Shatner smooch turned out to be an imposter, as the real Trina walked up shortly after. The “fake Trina” went on to become a running gag throughout the night.
For every laugh-out-loud anecdote, there was also time devoted to more serious topics, such as taking care of the environment, respecting one another on social media and appreciating the wonder of life itself.
“We’re given a window, and to let a moment go by without some appreciation of that majesty is foolhardy and stupid,” Shatner said.
As a science enthusiast, Shatner has had countless conversations with experts in the field. He mentioned getting into “a ferocious argument” with Neil deGrasse Tyson over space-time, and he recounted when the late Stephen Hawking asked him to dinner, the doctor using his cheek muscles to type out an invitation on his computer.
Over the course of his 50-year career, the actor has brought a number of pop culture figures to life: Captain James T. Kirk, T.J. Hooker, Denny Crane, the list goes on. What fewer people may know is his extensive work in other mediums.
"With a sprawling filmography and diverse set of passions, William Shatner is the living definition of the Dos Equis man."
He wrote the book “Live Long And…: What I Learned Along the Way,” a deep dive into his career which came out earlier this month. He’s also created records as a country music singer, with a Christmas album — the appropriately named Shatner Claus — releasing next month.
With a sprawling filmography and diverse set of passions, William Shatner is the living definition of the Dos Equis man — or spiritual successor, seeing as that ad campaign is no more.
At 87 years old, William Shatner could very well be the most interesting man in the world. When factoring in his time on screen with Spock and the rest of the Enterprise crew, one could argue he’s the most interesting man in the galaxy.
For those who missed his show at the Orpheum, Shatner will be returning to Madison Nov. 30-Dec. 2 for Wizard World at the Alliant Energy Center. Tickets to the event are now available for purchase.
Brandon Arbuckle is an arts editor for the Daily Cardinal. To read more of his work, click here.