Soap star Walt Willey stars in ‘Harvey’ in Ottawa
By Annie Alleman For Sun-Times Media July 27, 2012 11:44AM
◆ July 27-29
◆ Ottawa High School, 211 E. Main St., Ottawa
◆ Tickets, $25-$30
◆ (815) 434-2737
Updated: October 22, 2012 6:08PM
Two former soap stars will be in town this weekend acting in a production of the play “Harvey.”
Ottawa native Walt Willey, who spent 25 years starring as Jackson Montgomery on “All My Children,” returns to his hometown as his WilleyWorld Community Productions mounts the Pulitzer prize-winning play.
For the past four summers, the company has presented popular plays with guest artists joining the local actors on stage.
“It gives me a great deal of satisfaction when I see how much people enjoy it, and working with these kids who are very much about the theater arts, but oftentimes there’s not a heck of a lot around here to do,” he said.
This year’s guest will be Vincent Irizarry, who played David Hayward on “All My Children,” as well as roles on “Guiding Light,” “The Young and the Restless” and “Santa Barbara.”
Willey and his co-founder, Kim “Howard” Johnson, will present Mary Chase’s “Harvey” at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Ottawa High School auditorium.
“People think they know the play,” he said. “They’ve seen the Jimmy Stewart film that came out in 1950. It’s a wonderful play. ‘Harvey’ is such a warm, wonderful, sweet comedy — it’s very funny — and it has a wonderful message. I think ‘Harvey’ is the pre-cursor to ‘Forrest Gump’ in many ways.”
He plays Stewart’s role of Elwood P. Dowd, whose best friend is a six-foot-tall rabbit visible only to him.
“The way he treats people and interacts with folks is exactly the kind, Christian message we’ve all grown up with,” he said. “It’s got a lovely message and that’s why we chose it. I knew it was one we could do, and do very well. It’s a very funny play, and I’m proud we’re going to be presenting it.”
Irizarry plays the Dr. Sanderson, the sympathetic doctor whom is touched by Elwood and Harvey.
It wasn’t hard convincing his former co-worker to come on board, he said.
“To work live is something you don’t get to do on television,” he said. “Everything we do there goes into this little lens and spills out some weeks later into people’s television sets, and we rarely get to see it. I don’t know anybody who sat and watched themselves during lunch hour when I was on the show. With few exceptions, all of us began in the theater and probably would have stayed there except people started throwing television money at us. But to come on stage is a passion for all of us.”
After Sunday’s matinee, there is a fundraising party to benefit the Youth Service Bureau of Illinois Valley. The charge is $20 at the door, and fans will have the opportunity to get autographs and pictures with the stars.
“I will be doing some auctions, like fully-signed scripts from ‘All My Children,’ which … you may be able to get one on eBay for a few hundred dollars, but I had five or so stashed away because I knew they would become pretty rare.”
Willey also does a one-man show that he wrote called “Wild Bill! An Evening with James Butler Hickok,” about the cowboy born in LaSalle County.