John Bolton, whose Broadway outings include the original companies of Curtains, Monty Python's Spamalot, Contact and Titanic, feels like he won "A Major Award" with the new musical A Christmas Story. The actor, a devoted fan to the 1983 film of the same name, originated the role of The Old Man in the world premiere of A Christmas Story when the musical show bowed (in an earlier version) at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre in 2009. Following an extended engagement in Missouri, the work resurfaced in 2010 at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre with Bolton back as its leading man and rising songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Edges, Dogfight) newly attached.
Bolton also embarked on the show's five-city tour in 2011, but when talk of Broadway filled the air, Bolton didn't jump for joy — as The Old Man does in the musical — until he was confirmed to reprise his regional performance. Now, A Christmas Story, The Musical plays Broadway's Lunt-Fontanne Theatre for a holiday engagement, and Bolton is the only cast member who has been attached to the show from its beginning.
In your bio in the Playbill, you give a shout out to your "Old Man extraordinaire." Was your relationship with your father similar to the Old Man-Ralphie dynamic we see in A Christmas Story?
JB: Not really. The gentlemen and the fathers in [the 1940s] weren't nearly as demonstrative as the fathers that, I think, we grew up with. My dad was a very warm, caring guy who was always there, worked hard and got frustrated like any dad gets frustrated about any little thing. With my dad, I think it was our aerial antenna that he would get frustrated with — much like the furnace in [A Christmas Story]. I took little things [from him], like the way I rub my eyes in the show. There's a couple line readings I swear I could just hear my dad do, but I think, overall, I'm just grateful that I still have my dad. And, the fact that I get to play such an iconic father, of course, makes me think of my own.
It really is a father-son tale. What did you explore in rehearsals with Johnny Rabe and Zac Ballard, who play your sons Ralphie and Randy, [respectively], in the show?
JB: You know, I learn from them every day. I know that sounds crazy, but it's so true, particularly when they are, as they are usually, very natural — just relaxing and enjoying the ride of the show. It's great to take a page from what they're doing because they approach it as kids — from a really innocent, blank-slate of a place. And, I think it's a healthy thing for any actor to examine that instead of [thinking], "I'm going to spin it like this and that, and put a cherry on top of that." Kids don't really do that. It's been kind of inspiring to learn from them.
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