Final Bow

Final Bow: John Bolton Shares His Memories of Christmas Stories Past and Present

The Broadway veteran chats dog drool, leg lamps, and three years of Christmas.

Even the best shows must eventually come to an end (unless you’re Phantom), and no performer leaves a production without war stories and fond memories from their run. With that in mind, we’re sitting down with departing Broadway performers before their cast takes their final bow to chat with them about their most recent gig.

First up is A Christmas Story, The Musical‘s John Bolton (Spamalot, Curtains), who plays the cantankerous “Old Man,” a role he originated in 2009 at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre. After three years of Christmas, Bolton weighs in on his many Mothers, dog drool, and that leg lamp.

John Bolton and the cast of <i>A Christmas Story, The Musical</i> in rehearsal and on stage.
John Bolton and the cast of A Christmas Story, The Musical in rehearsal and on stage.
(© David Gordon, Carol Rosegg)

Name: John Bolton
Role/Show: The Old Man, A Christmas Story, The Musical

1. What is your favorite line that you delivered?
“Fra-jee-lay.” That huge crate comes in the door and the audience starts murmuring in anticipation. Then Erin Dilly [who plays Mother] sets it up so beautifully and all I have to do is say it. No spin, no nothing. Just say “fra-jee-lay.” And they go nuts. But there’s this nano-second before I say it where there’s this hush. They all know it’s coming. That’s my favorite moment.

2. Everyone loves inside jokes, so tell us…
a. What’s the best one from your show?
b. What’s the punch line of your cast’s most unprintable inside joke?

a. Since most of my time on and off stage is spent around the Mother, my inside jokes center around four years’ worth of the wonderful actresses who have played her. The divine Anne L. Nathan’s hilarious frustration in dealing with some of the kids, Anne Allgood’s gut-punchingly funny, filthy lyric re-writes, Rachel Bay Jones’ loving, Earth Mother loopiness, and my beautiful Erin Dilly, where if even one of us is slightly tired, the broken leg lamp scene quickly turns into a Carol Burnett Show skit with both of us trying so hard not to laugh, because we’re both truly from the same planet. And of course, these poor, brilliant women, they’ve all had to deal with me. I have this recurring image of them all on a conference call as some sort of Mother support group.

But as for one exclusively from the Broadway company, whenever something goes wrong we say, “Zac did it.”

b. That’s not dog drool.

3. Every show experiences technical difficulties. What was the worst technical difficulty to be experienced during your show and how was it handled?

One night early in previews, the two large units that come together to make the Parker house stopped several feet short of completion. And of course, it had to be during Erin’s gorgeous Act Two ballad, “Just Like That.” The only safe spot, conveniently, was downstage center, so Erin had a Judy-At-The-Palace moment and no one knew the difference. And I don’t know if this can be considered “technical,” but on opening night the dogs decided to remain safely in the wings and not come out and steal the turkey. Now, I’m alone on stage at that point, and the dogs-eating-the-turkey is not only an iconic moment from the film but also a pretty hefty plot point. So I took the turkey tray off stage to where the dogs were and channeled my inner Dog Whisperer to lure them on stage with no small – or subtle – effort. But they did it and the audience howled. I love those dogs.

4. What was the most “interesting” present someone gave you at the stage door?
Someone sent me a photo of the leg lamp with Bible verses about idolatry scrawled all over it. The kicker was they also wanted an autographed headshot.

5. Who is the coolest person that came to see your show? (You can’t say your family!)
Michael Bublé is a true idol so spending time with him, comparing vocal cord war stories, Christmas memories, and hearing his genuine enthusiasm for our work was kind of the coolest thing ever.

6. How many times – honestly – do you think you’ve seen the film A Christmas Story?
About a hundred and fifty. But not in the past 3 years. Now I’m afraid to.

7. What’s your personal Red Ryder BB Gun?
As a kid: a pop-up book of The Wizard of Oz one year and the game “Clue” another year. I still have both. As an adult: real estate.

8. Who has more fun doing this show: you, the kids, or the dogs?
The dogs are happy as can be as long as they get their (spoiler alert!) nightly hamburger out of the prop turkey. I, of course, am beyond thrilled to get to ride this terrific show all the way to Broadway. But I will say our amazing kids. Everyone – especially [director] John Rando – has worked hard – and lovingly – to make this a very positive experience for them all. I hope all of our kids will look back on this show as a warm, magical time that they can always carry with them and take pride in.

9. What is the significance of your taking this role from inception to Broadway?
I am so proud to be trusted with – and guided so wisely in – this role. I feel like I’ve been holding my breath with this show for a few years, and now I can just breathe, and smile and know that we did it.

10. Do you want to keep the leg lamp?
Only if I can have the rest of her, too.

Catch A Christmas Story, The Musical at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre through December 30.

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