26 Nov 2012
Willey, 'Wild Bill' come to Ottawa for 2 shows
11/26/2012, 8:38 pm
Mike Murphy, email@example.com, 815-431-4031
Whenever Walt Willey makes an appearance, he can be sure to draw plenty of women.
Judging from his quarter-century of work portraying Jackson Montgomery in the long-running soap opera "All My Children," that isn't a surprise. Yet his one-man show "Wild Bill! An Evening With James Butler Hickok," appears to appeal more to men, which is fine with Willey.
"I wanted to find something to cross that gender," the Ottawa native said in a phone interview from his New Mexico ranch. "I think I've been successful. Men love the show."
The show comes to the hometown of Willey and Kim "Howard" Johnson, who assisted Willey in the writing of the one-man show about Hickok (1837-1876), a Troy Grove native who became a scout, gunfighter and lawman who became an Old West legend.
Although Willey has staged "Wild Bill!" around a dozen times — including a Memorial Day weekend show at Mendota High School — Johnson and Willey see the Ottawa show as the play's true opening.
"I think we consider this the real premiere," said Johnson, the Ottawa author and actor who has been friends with Willey since they were children.
"Ever since 'These Shining Lives' (the WilleyWorld Community Productions 2010 show about Ottawa women stricken with cancer in the early part of the 20th century) we wanted to bring something to Ottawa involving local history. This was perfect."
In a question-and-answer session following the Mendota show, Willey was grilled about Hickok by male audience members, some of whom were related to the La Salle County native.
In all the Q&As following "Wild Bill!" stagings, only about four questions have concerned "All My Children," Willey said. Audience members are comprised of Hickok fans and "AMC" devotees.
"It's split about 50-50," he said. "It's not as heavy (with 'AMC' fans) as expected, which is gratifying."
The Mendota show was packed with Troy Grove references, and the Ottawa production will include more references to Hickok's work on the Illinois & Michigan Canal.
"This is the Illinois-centric version. It only makes sense to do that as much as I can," Willey said.
The actor will perform abbreviated versions of "Wild Bill!" for fourth- and fifth-grade students Tuesday in La Salle, and will meet with OTHS theater and speech students later in the week. A Friday dress rehearsal will be open to OTHS students.
Talking to and performing in front of students is one way of giving back to scholastic arts programs in an era where many often are endangered or even eliminated due to budget cuts, Willey said.
"I've taught acting on and off, and I really enjoyed it," he said. "We want to give these kids the opportunity to work with us."
Willey will stage "Wild Bill!" Saturday, Dec. 8, in Jackson, Tenn., and fans will be able to stream the show online. Details for the pay-per-view event are available at waltwilleyworld.com.
"So many things are going this way," Willey said about the streaming event. "I don't know if this is the future of TV, but it's a stop along the way."
Johnson would like to see "Wild Bill!" staged in the town where Hickok was shot and killed Aug. 2, 1876.
"The coolest thing would be to present it in Deadwood (S.D.)," he said. "Everything is still there. It looms so large in his legend. He's buried there."
Until that happens, Ottawa residents, Hickok buffs and "All My Children" devotees will have to be content to see the show in the OTHS auditorium.
- "WILD BILL! An Evening With James Butler Hickok," is a one-man show starring Ottawa native Walt Willey as Hickok, the Old West legend who was born and raised in Troy Grove.
- PERFORMANCES WILL BEGIN 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2, in the Ottawa Township High School auditorium, 211 E. Main St.
- ADMISSION WILL BE $20 in advance or $25 at the door, and can be purchased at the Ottawa Visitors Center, 100 W. Lafayette St., or by calling 815-434-2737.
- A PORTION of the proceeds will be presented by the Illinois Valley Coalition on Performing to the OTHS theater department.