Wednesday, September 17, 2014

John Bolton and Pageant: The Musical

photo by Simon Pauly
John Bolton is an actor and Broadway regular. Bolton is best known for originating the role of "The Old Man" (Mr. Parker) in the critically acclaimed Broadway show, A Christmas Story: The Musical, based on the classic 1983 movie A Christmas Story, which itself was based on stories by radio humorist Jean Shepherd.
Currently, he is the emcee in the critically acclaimed off-Broadway revival of Pageant: The Musical. John and I sat down earlier to discuss the path that has gotten him to this point.
Today, I celebrate John and his body of "worth".
In addition to originating the role of "The Old Man" (Mr. Parker) in A Christmas Story: The Musical on Broadway, Bolton repeated this starring role in Boston, Hartford and in 2013 at Madison Square Garden. Bolton's other theatre credit includes many Broadway musicals that have won the Tony Award including original productions of Curtains with David Hyde Pierce, Debra Monk, and Karen Ziemba; Spamalot with Tim Curry, David Hyde Pierce, and Sara Ramirez, directed by Mike Nichols; Contact directed by Susan Stroman; and Titanic with John Cunningham, Michael Cerveris and Victoria Clark; and revivals of Damn Yankees with Victor Garber; How to Succeed in Business with Matthew Broderick and Megan Mullally eventually playing the role of Finch opposite Sarah Jessica Parker.
A sought-after cabaret performer, Bolton also appeared in many concert performances including Downton Abbey at 54 Below, Titanic reunion at Lincoln Center Avery Fisher Hall, and most recently he appeared in Guys and Dolls at Carnegie Hall with Nathan Lane, Megan Mullally, Patrick Wilson, and Sierra Boggess.
with Peter Billingsley
The New York Times called his performance a "stand-out."
 I met John several year's ago at Eve Plumb's art opening here in New York. A few weeks ago, I was invited to see Pageant: The Musical, as Frankie Cavalier, and was thrilled to see John Bolton, a true journeyman actor, as the emcee. I reached out to him for a blog feature and he graciously accepted. We sat down in the midst of his busy schedule to chat about the journey that has led him to The Ken Davenport Theatre.
This is the result of that chat.
I began the interview by asking John what makes him happy and what makes him unhappy.
Friends and family are on the upper rung of what makes him happy. His dogs share a space on that rung. What makes him unhappy is feeling like he hasn't done his best in any given situation, especially in an audition or a performance. Also, any injustice in the world angers him. People who have never heard of H.R. Pufnstuf also makes him unhappy!
When I asked John why he performs, he said he would like to say it is all just a cry for help, but the truth is it is something he can do!

That may seem like a funny answer but it is the truth. He grew up in a very sports oriented family, a family that he loves very much.
It was just assumed that he would do the same thing that his older brothers did which was sports.
John Bolton and the cast of Pageant: The Musical
He tried to do that and actually had fun with it. Then he realized that he could act and sing and THAT was fun.
He enjoyed being in plays and on stage. This started when he was in the third grade. He was in the class play and all of a sudden it was something that he could do that he felt good about.
He just kept doing it and, fortunately, went to a small high school that wasn't super competitive, therefore, he was able to get a lot of experience doing plays and musicals.
He took that experience to community theatre beyond that.
In college, he got a BA in journalism at St John Fisher College in Rochester, New York. In Rochester, he continued to do community theatre and remained active in the local theatre scene. Finally, he made the leap to bigger auditions. "I've been fooling them ever since."
Although he came from a sports oriented household, the family was artistic in various ways. His parents, Keene and Norma Bolton, whom he loved very much, sadly have passed on.
They were his biggest fans ever. His mom passed on about ten years ago and his father passed away this past December on the opening night of A Christmas Story which opened at Madison Square Garden. John got word at intermission that his father had just passed. John knew it was coming.
His father was in Hospice. Still, John had to go out and perform Act Two. Prior to that, he just disintegrated in his dressing room.

He could hear his father's voice in his head saying, "Johno, go do that terrific show." His father HAD seen John in the show and was proud of him.

He went out and did his best that night.
His father was a banker and ran several small banks in upstate New York. He was very fiscally minded and his favorite three words were "Save your money." He was a wonderful dad and a very kind man.
His mom was a very talented artist. She also ran estate sales in upstate New York. That instilled in John an appreciation of art and antiques.
His two brothers are ten and twelve years older than him. Their names are Rob and Tom. Rob is a designer and salesman. He lives in upstate New York with his wonderful family. He is also a very talented composer on the side. He has a great way with a melody and is a great guitarist. He has his own recording studio in his basement with amps and things that John has no idea what they do but when it is all put together, it sounds terrific.John's brother, Tom, lives in Chicago where he is an accountant at Chase bank. He, too, is creative in a musical way, in which he has a very fond archival appreciation of fifties and sixties music. He has basically anything anyone could possibly desire on tape. He loves the history of the music as well as those who sang it. And, now, a little bit about Pageant: The Musical. John knew the people who were putting it together. Pageant was returning to the NYC stage for the first time in over twenty years! The show ran EVERY MONDAY night in February  at Red Lacquer at 240 West 52nd Street.

They asked if he would be interested. He loves the show and has very fond and vivid memories of the original production despite how long it has been. That was a terrific company. He wanted to do it but he was already contracted to do Show Boat at San Francisco Opera where it was a nice paycheck!
It was also being filmed for PBS and DVD release. It was a fun role and he was getting to work with his pal Francesca Zambello who was directing as well as Harriet Harris and Bill Irwin, two wonderful people.
It was also working with the San Francisco Opera so it was a good gig. He told them that if they were willing to let him just rehearse for two days, he could do it. They said they couldn't do that; they would have to have a rehearsal process. They thanked him but had to move on.
They hired another gentleman and right before John was about to close in Show Boat in San Francisco, his phone rang and they asked him when exactly he would be getting back to New York. He told them that he was returning on Thursday. This was Tuesday, two days before he was scheduled to come home. They asked him if he could learn the show in two days. He asked them to send the script to him and he would look at it and think about it. They over nighted the script to him and as he looked over the script, all of these rich memories of the original began to come back. John thought that this would be fun and that it was only for just a little while. It was a great job. He would once again be working with great people. He had not to long ago done Guys and Dolls at Carnegie Hall with director Matt Lenz. He knew Shea Sullivan's wonderful work for many years as choreographer. Executive Produced by Andy Sandberg who is an old friend. He thought, "This looks fun. I'm game. I'll learn it in two days!" He flew back and went into rehearsal without the cast. It was just with the stage manager and the choreographer. Then he met the cast on Sunday afternoon at 1PM and he was on that night at 7PM!
He noticed, by the way, that there were critics in the audience. Part of the show involves John's character going out into the audience to pick the judges. He couldn't help but notice that some of the audience members were holding press kits.
All he could think was, "Oh, Christ! I'm being thrown to the lions tonight."
It was his first time on that
stage.
After the show, he went to his press rep and said "Will you please let them know I've only had two rehearsals?"

They assured him that they would do that. That's how he became involved. He loves the show.
"It is so much fun." He loves the whole free wheeling nature of the show.
He loves his "girls". He loves watching them in the wings every night. His job is to "serve those 'girls' on a silver platter.It is fun to do that. It is fun to watch them genuinely 'compete' with each other, all in good nature, so far."
He loves the whole audience voting aspect of the show.
Wink Martindale
He gets to "control" the show. It also gives him a chance to channel some of his heroes: Gene Rayburn (who had the great fortune of meeting and working with for one wonderful week many years ago), the amazing Peter Marshall, not to mention the years that John grew up watching Bob Barker host the Miss USA/Universe Pageants (just his speech pattens and such), and John throws in a little Wink Martindale just because"it makes me laugh". John's favorite part of the show is the audience involvement and watching them enjoy the show and how different it is every night. John is happy to say that ALL of the "girls" have won multiple times so there is no poor "pathetic creature left in the dust."
One "girl" tends to win the most.
Still the others are right behind her. He loves the fact that they all get to win. It is also fun to watch the "losers". He loves the whole "judge situation. He loves getting to pick the judges and play with them. He watches each audience when he is standing on the side near the beginning. He is introduced, he comes out and does his bit, then he introduces the 'girls".
As he steps to the side as each of the 'girls' introduce themselves, he watches the audience like a hawk, particularly people near the front because that's where the audience will be able to see the judge's scores a little better.
He looks for people with big smiles on their faces, people who look like they're having a really good time, that will be really good judges.
He has had a pretty good track record with that.
I asked him what he would be doing if THIS wasn't it. He said that as he gets older, he wonders about that more and more.
The fact that he can't find an answer frightens him. He would like to think that he will be doing this for a little while longer, but if that doesn't happen, he might buy a nice bookstore in Rockport, Massachusetts, and be there with his partner and have a nice quiet seaside life with their dogs. That is a pipe dream. What would he actually do living in New York City? He has no idea. He would love to stay involved with theatre somehow, maybe as a stage manager or a writer. He loves to write.
He is a pretty good parody lyric writer He would love to continue maybe going down that lane and seeing where it takes him. For now, he really doesn't know.
Pageant is affording John the opportunity be home for a while. He loves to perform in his home city, which he tries to do more often than not. Often his agents will call and offer him gigs out of town.
Usually, unless it is something that is coming in
or wants to come in or has future aspirations, he will generally say no and not pursue it any further unless it is something he is dying to do. They will try to convince him otherwise. San Francisco Opera was a once in a lifetime situation. It was a great experience and he got to work with some amazing people. I asked John what he considers to be the lowest point of his career. He says it happens every three or four months! It's when he has that audition that he wishes that he had thought about differently. or that he wishes he could just have one more shot at it. There are times when he leaves the room thinking, "Wow! I really messed that one up."
Not that anything has really fallen apart. It goes back to what he said earlier about doing his best. "You go to these auditions. You learn the material. Sometimes you have no idea what they are looking for. You make choices. You hope that if they see something they don't like, they'll hopefully lead you down a different path towards something they do like.
Usually, they will give you several scenes to look at. Maybe you'll do one or two. Not knowing what's coming ahead leads to some frustration in the room."
Once in a while, he goes home after an audition saying, "Well, I'm not going to be getting THAT one!" For some of those, he places the blame at his own feet for not being as being prepared as he should be or sometimes, being too prepared and not being able to allow their direction or their notes or their adjustments in. Those little moments are the lowest moments of his career. As far as the bigger picture is concerned, there have been some shows where he was very happy onstage but unhappy off stage.
They, however paid so well or he worked with great people onstage, that he hates to refer to them as low points because they allowed him to save a lot of money.
John Bolton and the cast of A Christmas Story, The Musical in rehearsal and on stage.
There is his dad once again saying, "Save your money"! There have been a couple of understudy situations in which he was very happy working with some wonderful people but feeling that he wasn't really part of the show.
He is a good team player. He loves to just "throw the ball around" and being with the gang and as an understudy
or a standby, sometimes, he was either made to feel or allowed himself to feel like he really wasn't part of the company. That was painful, but something he got through. Fortunately, he has money in the bank to offset that.
I asked what he thinks of the state of the arts today. He says it is increasingly becoming more and more corporate.
He didn't grow up in the "golden age of Broadway". All he has to go by are those great cast albums he had/has. He imagines that things were just as difficult then in their own way that we just don't know about. Now, it is "theatre by committee" as opposed to letting someone's vision being truly honored or at least attempted is sad. It is pretty much that way with everything these days.
It is that way with popular music. It is certainly that way with television programming and Hollywood. There is a formula to that. John wishes that Broadway "producers"  would take chances on newer talents more often in terms of directors and choreographers. The same names keep showing up.

Seth Tucker, Alex Ringler, Nick Cearley, John Bolton, Curtis Wiley, Marty Thomas, and Nic Corey star in Pageant — The Musical at the Davenport Theatre.
(© Tyrone Rasheed)
John has had the great pleasure and honor of working with some of those "same names" and he has LOVED working with those "same names", but it seems a shame that there is not a lot of room for new directors and
The cast of Pageant at the Davenport Theatre.
(© Tyrone Rasheed)
choreographers beyond one or two a year. They should be able to sneak in and get their chance.
I asked John if he is involved in any other aspect of the theatre beyond acting.
He is part of a small group of guys and one gal who has produced a series of videos. Downton Abbey was filmed at 54 Below. They also did one called Russian Broadway Shuts Down. They are working on another video right now. 

That keeps them going artistically. He enjoys that.
He considers himself an arts aficionado.He attends as much as he can. He has been lucky enough to have a fairly versatile career in which he has gotten to work with. In addition to the a fore mentioned San Francisco Opera Company, he has also sung with the Philharmonic and symphonies all across the country. He has done plays and musicals on Broadway and off-Broadway. He has increasingly done more television. He just recently shot an episode of  Blue Bloods with a nice guest starring role.
Edie Adams (c) with John Bolton (l) as Cornelius and Duane Lanham (r) as Barnaby in the 1991 production of Hello, Dolly! (Bucks County Playhouse, Pocono Playhouse, Falmouth Playhouse)
He tries to grab what he can. Usually, he gets lawyer or accountant types. He spent four seasons in a nice recurring role on Gossip Girl.
He feels that he is enough in the arts, "a little bit here, a little bit there", in different sorts of facets of it all that it keeps him truly involved.
Someone once told him years ago that his style was "old Broadway", that he was only going to do the older shows.He is happy to say that he HAS done those older shows.
That being said, a lot of the younger composers call him regularly telling him they want HIM. They want him to come in and do roles that they feel he is perfect for. He sings "rock" when he can. He tries to stay on the new side of things as well as the old classic side of things.
He has had a lucky fairly diverse go of it. If he can just keep it going, he will be happy. 
The cast of Pageant have all been asked about their availability into January. In a few weeks from now, John is returning to the Bucks County Playhouse. He will be playing a couple of roles in Rocky Horror.
That, also, just fell into his lap. He will be out of Pageant for two weeks to do that.
He certainly hopes that Pageant WILL continue through January. While he is out, Marty Thomas, who currently plays Miss Deep South will switch from evening gown to tuxedo! He will be fantastic. John fears they may not ask him back! Marty actually won the pageant the night before this interview.
There were several people in tiaras were in the audience, but if there were any titled queens in the audience, they stayed anonymous.
They had a great time at the party afterwards watching the Miss America pageant. Five of the competing contestants have actually been to see Pageant.One of those women actually won...Kira Kazantsev, Miss New York, who is delightful to chat with, according to John. Three former Miss
A Christmas Story Bookwriter Joseph Robinette, John Bolton
Americas have attended, several of the state winners, then there are the other contest winners, like Miss United States and Ms. United States, then there is Miss USA...there is a whole circuit! The pageant world is very extensive and a very pleasant world that John previously knew very little about.
What keeps John going?
John has a wonderful partner, the amazing Sean McKnight who is a wonderful choreographer.
They have a nice home midtown in New York City.John has lived in the same apartment for twenty years. He loves his apartment. He loves his friends. He loves his pets. He loves the neighborhood.
He loves the theatre. He gets to be here and be a part of a world that he feels so lucky to be living the life that the sixteen year old in him always dreamed of living.

Is John a good student?
He is NOW as an adult. As a kid, he was good at the subjects he liked.
The others were barely squeaking by.
Could he possibly turn it off and STOP what he is doing?
Well, if the right little bookstore in New England came available, he would really think about it. He always told himself that he would quit at ten Broadway shows.
Now, he is at eight. At ten, he can retire! He supposes he could turn it off if the RIGHT thing was on the other side. He wouldn't have any regrets. He has had some wonderful opportunities. He has certainly worked with some true heroes of his. We are all the better for it!
http://www.pageantmusical.com/

Thank to ALL mentioned in this blog for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!

With grateful XOXOXs ,


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