MASARYKTOWN — A TV star coming to perform in "little ol' Masaryktown"?
"That's what everybody is asking," says Donna Roberts, event chairwoman for the Masaryktown Community Center.
In a nutshell, the booking came through "a friend of a friend," Roberts said, adding: "Isn't it wonderful? Imagine that! A star in our county."
Walt Willey, best known for his 24-year role as Jackson Montgomery on the soap opera All My Children, will perform his stand-up comedy act, "Wild and Willey," at 8 p.m. Friday at the center.
Although Willey, 65, is most widely known through daytime TV drama, the actor says on his website that comedy "is an absolute passion of mine."
Friday marks the one-year anniversary of the last episode of All My Children, and Willey says the anniversary played a role in his decision to come to Florida this weekend.
"Last year around this time, I was in Florida (doing comedy shows) in Tampa and Sarasota, Lauderdale, West Palm," he said in a phone interview. "This is too much like serendipity. It worked so well last year, so why not this year?
"My career and my life have been so dominated by coincidence, serendipity, happenstance — call it what you will — that I don't choose to ignore it."
Willey said he prefers small venues such as the 350-seat community center hall in Masaryktown.
"Most comedy clubs, even the big-name ones, seat about 250. I'm pretty much doing this in theaters of less than 500. It just fits the situation," he said.
Willey said he talks about life in his routine — "parents, children, sex, pets, the same kind of gist most comics talk about."
The two-hour show will open with two warm-up comedians, followed by Willey's one-hour act. At the end, he is expected to include a question-and-answer session and a meet-and-greet with audience members.
Doors open at 6:30 p.m.
Roberts said the community center's directors and volunteers have been "dolling up" the hall for a year, "an absolute facelift, all the way to the parking lot. I thought it was a shame to use that hall just for bingo," she said.
Volunteer Joann Tuten heard Roberts' regret. Tuten said her daughter, Amy Tuten, works at a Sarasota TV station and knows Willey, having accompanied him on soap opera-themed cruises. Joann Tuten put Roberts in touch with her daughter, who in turn contacted Willey. A deal was struck.
"Walt called, and we spent an hour on the phone," said Roberts. "He is a sweetheart of a person."
She said she was a bit shocked by the act's sticker price, but that everyone is happy to be bringing Willey to town.
Tickets are $20 and available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through Saturday at Giddy-Up Saddle Shop on U.S. 41. Tickets also can be obtained by calling Roberts at (352) 232-3308.
The actor, who owns a bed and breakfast with his wife in Santa Fe, N.M., will stay in Spring Hill and is scheduled to dine this evening at Glen Lakes Country Club.
The nonprofit center's share of the proceeds from the show will pay for maintenance and upgrades at the center, Roberts said.
"We've already book our second show, another big name, in November," she said.
But she's not telling who just yet.
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.