Willey assembles his favorite cast in WWCP production of: "My Favorite Year"
Actors (from left) Walt Willey, Joe Baima, Erica Quirk, Sean Frey and Chance Willey rehearse a scene from "My Favorite Year." The WilleyWorld Community Productions comedy will be staged Friday through Sunday, July 24 through 26, in the Ottawa Township High School auditorium.
As a longtime soap opera actor, Walt Willey has used his acting expertise WilleyWorld Community Productions shows.
Willey is the producer and director and will be using local talent to carry "My Favorite Year," the seventh annual WWCP show, which will run Friday, July 24, through Sunday, July 26, in the Ottawa Township High School auditorium.
This is the cream of the crop of actors in Starved Rock Country," the Ottawa resident and former "All My Children" star told The Times.
Actors again are coming a long way to act in the Willey show. Some are driving from as far as Bloomington and Joliet to work with local actors in "My Favorite Year."
"I think we have the perfect cast," Willey said.
Based on the popular 1982 movie of the same name, "My Favorite Year" lasted exactly one month on Broadway, in December 1992 and January 1993.
The play debuted a decade after the movie of the same name, which earned the late Peter O'Toole an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Alan Swann, a fading movie idol who travels to 1954 New York City to perform in a live television variety show.
Willey will portray Swann, and his son, Chance Willey, will play Benjy Stone, the young comedy writer assigned to keep Swann out of trouble. The task is very difficult for Stone, as Swann runs roughshod over the Big Apple.
"This is the biggest show we've ever done because it hasn't been done. I think it's the biggest in terms of production values. You will feel you are in a 1950s television studio," Willey said.
The story is an exaggeration of a 1954 guest star appearance by aging action star Errol Flynn on "Your Show of Shows," the show that starred Sid Caesar. In "My Favorite Year," the Swann character is based on Flynn, and Stone is a combination of Mel Brooks and Woody Allen, who in 1954 were young writers for "Your Show of Shows." King Kaiser, the host of the show within a show of "My Favorite Year," is modeled after Caesar.
"The adventures of that week are largely fictional," Willey said.
Yet they are pretty riotous, and the cast is having fun with them onstage.
"I think it's really fun. They did a great job of combining the fear and drama," said Joliet's Devon Ford, who portrays K.C. Downing, Benjy's love interest.
Ford heard about "My Favorite Year" through Kelly Johnson, of Seneca, a WWCP regular who portrays Benjy's mother in the show.
"I did a cold reading and they offered me the part," said Ford, who also will serve as a "My Favorite Year" stage manager along with Ottawa's Darlene Halm.
"My Favorite Year" takes place more than 60 years ago, yet Willey believes it's a good fit for a WWCP show.
"The local theater patron is 55 to 75 years old. We get some 20-somethings and 30-somethings. But these patrons remember early TV. And there are nothing like these variety shows on TV anymore. It revisits those days. In many ways it was a better time," he said.
"My Favorite Year" has impressed a young cast member, 16-year-old Merit Willey. Daughter of Walt and sister of Chance, she portrays Swann's daughter, Tess, and also will help backstage.
"I've never been a fan of the variety show. I've seen reruns. But I think the play and the backstage story is very interesting.”
The stage version of "My Favorite Year" does not include some elements from the movie, including the presence of Boss Rojeck, a gangster aiming to settle a score with Kaiser. But the play's climactic scene involving the live TV show will be duplicated inside the OTHS auditorium. Some actors will be in character in the audience.
"We'll have the 'on the air' lights and the stage managers on the floor. It will be like a 90-minute variety show," Willey said.
In a little more than a week, the cast will come together to put on its own live show inside the same auditorium.
"By far it's the most professional theater group I've worked with. Everyone knows their jobs," Ford said.
And it's come with an all-local cast.
"My Favorite Year" cast members, listed by hometown, include: Luis Aguilar, Lloyd Chapman, Tony Epperson, Sean Frey, Darlene Halm, Marissa Hettel, Wyatt Hettel, Jay LeSeure, Cheyenne MacBean, Carol McConville, Brandon Miller, Mary Morgan, Brain Rehor, Karly Swords, Chance Willey and Walt Willey, all of Ottawa
Additional performers include Marseilles residents Michael Meatheringham and Cassidy Murphy; Japheth Villarin, Streator; Kelly Johnson, Seneca; William Gillespie, Tonica; Morris residents Joe Baima and Deb Torri; Erica Quirk, Minooka; Christopher Harkins, Bloomington; Devon Ford, Joliet; Merit Willey, Sante Fe, N.M.; and Sarah Kaine, Nashville, Tenn.
Walt Willey My Favorite Year. Tickets ON SALE NOW!
Live Theatre in Walt's hometown of Ottawa IL. Go to: www.waltwilleyworld.com, scroll down to below the My Favorite Year poster, and pick your performance date.