Shatner takes center stage in one-man show at MotorCity

Susan Whitall
The Detroit News

He’s played many characters in six decades as a professional actor, but being William Shatner has to be the 84-year-old Canadian-born actor’s greatest role.

In his early career, Shatner was smooth, classically-trained and, well ... Canadian. He played the youngest brother, Alexey, in the Hollywood film of “The Brothers Karamazov” in 1958; the suave racist in Roger Corman’s forgotten 1962 civil rights film “The Intruder,” and the terrified man who sees a monster on the wing of a plane in a 1963 “Twilight Zone” episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”

There was more essence of Shatner in his later roles; in the mellow, Shakespearean tones of Capt. James Kirk in “Star Trek,” and later, the humor and bombast of Denny Crane in “Boston Legal,” who was not averse to dropping a mischievous “Star Trek” reference or two.

So why shouldn’t he cut to the chase and give us the full Shatner, unfiltered by fiction? And so he will. Shatner brings his one-man show, “Shatner’s World,” to the MotorCity Casino’s Sound Board on Jan. 24.

Talking nonstop for two hours — well, that’s got to be easy for William Shatner, right?

“Well that’s true, but you’ve got to talk entertainingly,” Shatner said by phone from his Los Angeles compound.

“A few years ago, Australia asked me to do a one-man show. It’s the zenith of the show business world. If you can do a one-man show and hold an audience for a couple of hours, you’ve got the brass ring. I thought, I wonder if I could do it. Then I thought, if I do it in Australia and fail, nobody will know. It turned out to be successful!”

He took the one-man show through Canada, and then was approached to take the show to New York.

“That’s when I rewrote it and restaged it,” Shatner said. “We had a successful run on Broadway, and now we’re going to play some new dates, including Detroit. It’s been an enormous success, and I hope that’s the case in Detroit.”

It’s two full hours of Shatner, but after all, he’s had eight decades to gather material.

“It’s the affirmation of life, saying yes to life and yes to opportunities and yes to new ideas,” the actor said. “The things I do on stage affirm that, the passions we need to live by. So I talk about lowland gorillas and motorcycles, and I talk about love and I talk about comedy, and I talk about death and music and go on a bit, about everything. It’s a lovely evening’s entertainment.”

Will there be singing, the pop culture geek might wonder? Who could forget his first album, 1968’s “The Transformed Man,” with a cover of “Mr. Tambourine Man” that evoked gasps.

He’ll sing, it turns out, but don’t bother yelling out requests.

With so many excited Trekkies in the general population, it’s inevitable that folks might call out to Shatner in the course of his show. Don’t do it, he advises.

“I try to put a kibosh on that immediately, it just disrupts everything, including my train of thought,” Shatner said. “When you’re alone onstage, you have nobody else to blame.”

It’s a busy time for the actor. Apart from “Shatner’s World,” he’s also got two books coming out this year. The first one, “Leonard,” out in February, was written about his “Star Trek” co-star, Leonard Nimoy (who died last February), and the importance of male friendship.

“I talk about what friends are, and why men have more difficulty making friends than women do. And that to have a real friend is a thing to be cherished and nourished. I felt that with Leonard, and I talk about it.”

There’s also an NBC series on tap, “Better Late than Never,” premiering in late winter. It’s a reality travel show in which Shatner, Henry Winkler, Terry Bradshaw and George Foreman backpack through Asia and have adventures.

There’s another book due out in October, although the actor says that is a subject for another interview.

We can’t forget the Shatner Twitter feed, @WilliamShatner. There, the former captain of the Starship Enterprise delights in trolling “Star Wars” fans. He once tweeted a side-by-side comparison of a “Star Wars” rebel space suit with a similar one from the TV series “Space 1999.”

While some may think Twitter is a young person’s medium, Shatner laughs that off.

“Given the need for saving time so that you can live out your life more fully, social media should be an older person’s thing,” he insists. The theory being that an older person, with less time left on the planet, is better suited to Tweet?

“Exactly. You have to be abrupt and abbreviate.” And with that, he’s off.

Shatner’s World, with William Shatner

7:30 p.m. Jan. 24

Sound Board, MotorCity Casino

2901 Grand River, Detroit. (313) 309-4614

Tickets: $45, $50 and $60, at; 21 and over only; photo I.D. required.