THE LEADING MEN: John Bolton Receives a Major Award on Broadway in A Christmas Story, The Musical

By Michael Gioia
01 Dec 2012

Bolton and company perform "A Major Award."
Photo by Carol Rosegg

As an actor, it must be difficult to create a new character for the stage if you have preconceived notions in your head. What is your process like? Where did you begin?
JB: I began with the things I remembered the most. I don't want to say "Not a finger!" any other way than the way Darren McGavin says it, or his brilliant swear "Hasticklefiffer" — I don't want to say it any other way — or "Get the glue"! [or] "Do you know what your son just said?" I just sort of see him in my mind when I say these things, and I see him with great affection. Because I don't want to hear those lines said any other way, I don't think a lot of the audience does.

Now, the ones that I don't remember his exact line readings: maybe there are the film people out there who are going, "Oh! He blew that one," but I can't do the whole thing [as he did it]. I still have to be me. And, the writers, [librettist Joseph Robinette and composer-lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul], have fleshed out a lot more of the story — the heart between Mom and Dad and the kids — so I figured if I just checked in with the things I remembered and didn't want changed, those are the ones I kept; anything else, I just ride the same ride [and use] the same intention.

At the end of your first-act number, "A Major Award," you get to have this big rock-star moment when you swoop up into your falsetto!
JB: [Laughs.] Guys in their 40s don't really get to do that, so I'm really excited! The number had an ending where we all hit this big note, and I thought, "No! You know what, I'm going to try in rehearsal letting the dad have the last word." So I swooped up to this crazy "John Bolton" note that I have in my back pocket for some crazy reason — I have no idea why — and they went, "Oh, my God, yes! Yes! You must do that every night." They even came to me and said, "Do you know what that note is? That's amazing." I said, "Don't tell me what the note is because if I know, I'll start seeing it on the [paper] way high over the staff." I just let it be more of a noise than a note — a noise on pitch! I think it's just a little last moment of, "Yeah!" I'm very grateful that they let me do it.

Besides the singing, you also do a fair amount of yelling throughout the show. How do you maintain good vocal health?
JB: I work with Liz Caplan, who is like the most amazing vocal coach in the city, so she's offered some wonderful advice. Every year I've done Christmas Story, I usually start with a full deck, vocally, and then… It's not the singing that gets me; it's the yelling. Knowing that I'm on Broadway this year, I don't want to watch my voice go down hill so that by the end of the show, I'm just barely squeaking it out. I knew I had to rethink a lot of how I approached, physically, yelling at the furnace and the dogs. I thought, "Well, all of those [lines] don't need to be screamed. Why not just say some of the words? Then, when you do yell, it'll mean something." So I did it that way. I cut the amount of yelling, believe it or not, in half, and I think the sound department knew that and has helped me by taking moments where I'm not yelling and making me sound like I'm yelling. Now, am I tired at the end of a show, vocally? Sure. Maybe it's not a good idea to go have three Manhattans [after the show], but I usually go home and have tea! [Laughs.] That sounds so truly "Old Man," but I'm looking forward to making up for those Manhattans when the show's over! [Laughs.]