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William Shatner brings his life and music to stage

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theshat.JPGWilliam Shatner's on the phone, and here's one of the first things he says: "I just put down the phone with Ben Folds."

I'm a "Star Trek" fan but it's not, you know, a lifestyle. I like the franchise just fine, and my favorites are the third series and the sixth film. It's a pleasure to be speaking with Capt. James T. Kirk, sure, but I'm less interested in "Trek" than other things. He's one of the few Enterprise captains, after all, who's done many, many, many other things -- which is why his life story has thus far supported three memoirs and, on tour now, a one-man autobiographical stage show titled, with typical humility, "Shatner's World: We Just Live In It."

So when he mentions Folds, with whom the often musically maligned Shatner recorded one supremely excellent album -- 2004's "Has Been," an evocative and emotional set of 11 tracks based on Shatner's unique. way. of delivering. the spoken. word, featuring Aimee Mann, Joe Jackson, Henry Rollins, Brad Paisley and others -- my music side beams up more than a little.

in "Shatner's World: We Just Live in It"

• 8 p.m. Jan. 4
• Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd. in Aurora
• Tickets: $65-$85; (630) 896-6666;

So is he going to record another record?

"I'm working on that right now, actually. It's a matter of negotiation. I have the idea for it, the co-producer lined up."

But it's not Folds. The rest is under wraps for now.

Half a dozen songs from "Has Been," however, form the backbone of Shatner's onstage evenings -- an hour and a half of Shatner telling stories from his six-decade acting career, showing photos and videos from his 81 years of life and, yes, a little singing.

"The last song [from 'Has Been'] with Brad Paisley sums up the whole evening. It's the last thing in the performance," Shatner says. "I talk about music in the show and my fascination with the English language. I wrote those lyrics for 'Has Been' from my heart, and this is a dramatization of those thoughts."

The one-man or -woman show usually comes along at, let's say, a certain time in an actor's life. Bea Arthur did "Just Between Friends," Billy Crystal did "700 Sundays," Shatner's pal Christopher Plummer recently did "A Word for Two." No spring chickens among them. Sometimes it's about final thoughts, sometimes it's about legacy maintenance.

"Actually, I don't think of it in those terms," Shatner says. "What it is for me is just a way to perform something in a meaningful way that satisfies my creative urges. I'm kinetic ... and these stories all have certain shades. One requires the reading of the line to be meaningful in a particular way, otherwise there's no humor to it. I have to hit that note to color it exactly the right way as if it were drama."

It's almost a meta experience: Shatner is telling real stories from his life, but he's performing them, as well.

"That only came to me far less rapidly than you just observed. The more meaningful I made the stories, the improvised I made them, the more I kept coming to the emotion of the story as if for the first time," he says. "Rather than, 'Let me tell you what happened to me the other day,' it's become, 'Let me tell you what HAPPENED to me!' It's working on a number of levels, and the audience gets those levels."

One actor, carrying a whole show. It's exhausting.

"It's tough in that there's an expenditure of energy -- but I have an excess of that." He laughs, as heartily as you imagine. "There's a glut of energy here."

As far as his continued involvement in all things galactic, Shatner last year took on yet another show business role: documentary filmmaker. "The Captains," released last year, follows Shatner through conversations with the four other actors who have helmed Starfleet vessels, interviewing them in the probing style he showcased briefly on the underappreciated cable series "Shatner's Raw Nerve."

His next film is also "Trek"-related, even though you might not think so given its current working title. "Wack-a-Doodle" will document the first two years of production on the series "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

"It's about how crazy it was, how difficult it was to get it started and do it right," Shatner says.

Asked his opinion of the "Star Trek" reboot movies, Shatner's answer is diplomatic but with a slight barb at the end.

"What [director] J.J. Abrams has done is really wonderful. He's opened the field to a much larger audience. Perhaps, if he does more, he will come to the idea that 'Star Trek' is also a wondrous story and not just a ride of derring-do."

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Thomas Conner

Thomas Conner covers pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. Contact him via e-mail.


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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on December 28, 2012 9:00 AM.

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