Celebrate William Shatner’s 91st birthday with a look at his Broadway work.
On March 22, William Shatner’s 91st birthday, Star Trek fans—and, let’s face it, the world—are thinking of him first and foremost as Captain James T. Kirk. (No offense to Chris Pine or Paul Wesley.) But don’t forget: William Shatner’s stardom trek began on the stage.
Trained in the classical Shakespearean tradition, Shatner trod the boards performing the Bard’s works with the Stratford Festival in Ontario for three seasons, starting in 1954. In 1956, he even took “a celebrated turn as understudy for Christopher Plummer”—who would, decades later, antagonize Shatner’s Kirk as Klingon General Chang in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)—as King Henry V, according to CTV News.
Shatner soon gained fame on the big and especially the small screen. He’s so identified as Captain Kirk today, we sometimes forget the original Star Trek series scored quite a victory landing Shatner to replace Jeffrey Hunter as the Enterprise’s skipper. But Shatner has bona fide Broadway credits, too, both before and after Trek.
So on the occasion of William Shatner’s 91st birthday, here’s a quick look at the times Star Trek’s most famous captain appeared on the Great White Way.
Tamburlaine the Great (1956)
Penned not by Shakespeare but by his contemporary Christopher Marlowe, Tamburlaine the Great (1590) tells the tale of the 14th-century Turco-Mongolian emperor Timur (Tamburlaine). Shatner played Usumcasane, one of Timur’s loyal commanders. Though Tamburlaine was booked for a 12-week run at the Winter Garden Theatre, it stayed fewer than three, according to Shatnerweb.com.
The World of Suzie Wong (1958)
Based on a novel by Richard Mason and later adapted to the screen, The World of Suzie Wong proved a big break for Shatner. He played Robert Lomax, a Canadian artist who paints and falls in love with the title character, a prostitute. France Nuyen played Suzie. She would play romantic scenes opposite William Shatner again, in the Star Trek episode “Elaan of Troyius,” as the Dohlman of Elas.
The play ran 508 performances. Both Shatner and Nuyen won Theatre World Awards as the season’s most promising newcomers. They also got to act scenes from the show for a national TV audience on The Ed Sullivan Show.
A Shot in the Dark (1961)
William Shatner played Paul Sevigne the “Examining Magistrate” in A Shot in the Dark. This comedic mystery became the basis for the second “Pink Panther” movie. Director Blake Edwards reworked the source material with William Peter Blatty (who would later write The Exorcist) to make it a vehicle for Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau character. How fascinating must the parallel universe where William Shatner plays Inspector Clouseau be!
Shatner’s World: We Just Live In It (2012)
A decade before his 91st birthday William Shatner returned to Broadway for Shatner’s World, a one-man show in which he regaled audiences with stories from his storied career.
As you can see in the clip above, Shatner included his account of the time he made sure the show of Henry V went on in Christopher Plummer’s stead—making Shatner’s World a great bookend to William Shatner’s career on stage!