Long after Mr. Sulu and “Star Trek” faded into TV history, George Takei reinvented himself as a social media superstar and political and LGBT activist.
Now the 77-year-old actor who has gone so boldly into second and third careers will appear with the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops this weekend at Heinz Hall in “Sci-Fi Spectacular.”
A lover of music (and particularly classical music), Mr. Takei will take an extra-terrestrial musical journey with conductor Jack Everly, vocalist Kristen Plumley and the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh on selections such as “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “E.T.” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
In a phone interview Monday, he said his favorite part of a “fun” and “uplifting” evening of music is Bernard Herrmann’s score from “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” But the Earth doesn’t stand still for this jet-set celebrity, who zigzags this week from his home in Los Angeles to Salem, Ore., to Pittsburgh. Then he heads to Vancouver, Amsterdam and Atlanta.
“I pray for the early invention of the transporter,” he offered with a hearty, one-of-a-kind laugh. “I can step on that pod and sparkle and pop out seconds later and reach my destination and sparkle and pop in.”
Mr. Takei is best-known these days as an Internet superstar. He has nearly 8 million followers on his Facebook page, where his fans interact at a higher percentage rate than on Rihanna’s top-ranked page. To put the numbers in perspective, Captain Kirk (William Shatner) has less than 900,000 followers and Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) has a little more than 58,000.
His followers tune in for Mr. Takei’s unbridled sense of humor, ranging from albino animals (“in the white place at the white time”) to cute cat photos (“this gave me paws”) to occasional “Star Trek” references. Of Mr. Shatner and Mr. Nimoy’s reunion for a Volkswagen commercial, he wrote: “Nichelle [Nichols] and I are waiting for our call, BMW.”
“You can get teeth-grittingly serious and not be successful,” he noted. “I use the social media to put serious issues in a larger context.”
Mr. Takei has become a highly visible personality in his own right, which led to a 2014 documentary, “On Being Takei,” that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in August. In it, he discusses how he spent part of his childhood as one of 120,000 Japanese-Americans placed in internment camps at the outbreak of World War II.
He has turned his camp experiences into a musical, “Allegiance,” which is being developed along with Tony Award-winning actress Lea Salonga. The musical’s premiere at The Old Globe Theater in San Diego broke all box office and attendance records at the regional venue. Out of everything he does, Mr. Takei is most proud of this.
“I call it my legacy project,” he said.
He has gone on many speaking tours and helped found Los Angeles’ Japanese American National Museum, affiliated with The Smithsonian.
“These have all been intellectual approaches,” he said. “But the best way to reach people on that issue is through the heart.”
Mr. Takei said he might get his sense of humor from his grandmother, whose secrets of longevity included “to be active, to see the ridiculousness of life and put her daughter in her place.”
He noted that his “bachan” lived until age 104. “I’m a competitive guy and I’m in competition with my grandmother.”
And then he signed off with “live long and prosper.”
George Takei will appear at Heinz Hall with the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops in “Sci-Fi Spectacular” on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets: $24.75-$104.75 412-392-4900 or www.pittsburghsymphony.org.
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