Interview With Acclaimed Actor John Bolton

by Christine Thompson

After breaking box office records week after week and receiving unanimous raves on Broadway,  HELLO, DOLLY! is now touring America, paying tribute to the original work of legendary director/choreographer Gower Champion – hailed both then and now as one of the greatest stagings in musical theater history.

John Bolton says that his part as cranky feedstore owner and “half a millionaire” Horace Vandergelder is pure joy.  Bolton, who recently completed a two-year run starring as Vlad in Broadway’s Anastasia, told us in a phone interview that  “it is especially fun to do comedy one liners and entire comedy situations ” and this tour is “THAT production – the one that opened on Broadway in 1964 and received 10 Tony Awards, and toured with the great Carol Channing for 20 of those years.”  He continued “It’s a lavish valentine to the original production – It’s huge, with a large chorus and full orchestra.”

Winner of four Tony Awards® including Best Musical Revival, HELLO, DOLLY! is the universally acclaimed smash and critical darling.  Now it’s coming to the Houston And Austin.  Tickets for Houston’s Hobby Center  January 7-12th can be bought online here.

Tickets to the Austin performance at Bass Concert Hall January 21-26th can be bought online here.

Carolee Carmell and John Bolton in Hello Dolly! National Tour. Photo by Julieta Cervantes

He continued, “it’s Jerry Zaks-directed, and he finds every moment of comedy in the piece, but because it’s so well written there’s not an ounce of fat on this script. It was set up beautifully by (script writer) Michael Stewart, just a spectacular adaptation.”

This is the production that inspired the successful film adaptation with the young Barbara Streisand – and is a musical version of The Matchmaker (a 1954 play by Thornton Wilder)  HELLO,DOLLY! held the record for 38 years until The Producers beat it. “This is sacred territory, ” said Bolton. Bette Midler Midler’s run brought multiple box office highs and shattered records .

John Bolton and the National Tour Company of Hello, Dolly! – Photograph by Julieta Cervantes 2019

The accomplished Bolton, who made his Broadway debut alongside Jerry Lewis in Damn Yankees,  has a long list of performing credits for television, film and theater.  He’s headlined four sold-out concerts at Carnegie Hall, performed as a soloist with the NY Philharmonic at Lincoln Center and been nominated for numerous prestigious  acting awards.  Some of his television roles are U.S. Attorney General Hank Nolan on CBS “Madam Secretary.”  He played Bruce on “Gossip Girl.” He has guest-starred on “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “Elementary, “Blue Bloods,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “The Good Wife” and “Law & Order,” and is featured in the film Mapplethorpe so.... it’s no surprise that he’s also an adjunct professor who teaches acting at Pace University.

Yet, he was a journalism major in college.  When asked how you jump from journalism to the theater, he said “Broadway was a hobby at first.  I wasn’t good enough, had energy but no skill.  So while I was at school, I did a lot of community theater.” He continued  “It was a hobby I dove into.. I starting directing high school musicals while in college.  It was a way for me to learn. I’m grateful I got an education. I wanted a steady job – so I thought ‘guess I‘ll do summer stock.’ “

Which does John Bolton prefer, film or theater?  It was probably not a fair question as with film, it’s a “wildly different preparation.” Bolton said the use of the voice is different, but it’s an  “Intense situation – then it’s done, it goes away until it airs on TV.” He added “Whereas theater is every night and can morph, theater is more satisfying on an emotional level – especially  HELLO DOLLY!”  He continued ” Also, each audience is different.  You surf the audience, ride like a wave of joy.” You “Feel audience as a whole” because of the lights you  “see shapes in front of you, but can feel their energy – you just know it.  Some of the audiences can fool you but with this show in particular you can feel it.”  

He then added that another difference is audience size, stating “More people will see “Boardwalk Empire than two years of my life doing eight shows a week.”  However, he feels there is no substitute for the interaction of theater. Bolton said “In the two years I was with Anastasia, seeing people at the stage door – especially young people – and watching kids light up” was gratifying.

As an acting professor, he has some advice for those who suffer with stage fright yet want to be part of the theater world.  If you’re interested, join a local community theater.  “Be part of the electric, carpentry, set design or sound design team.  Be part of the amazing team sport that is theater.”

When asked what is his favorite play, he thought for a moment and then said “Our Town, also written by Thornton Wilder.  It’s the same theme as Dolly, such joy to be found in the everyday.”

If you’ve never seen a Broadway play, or any other type of play, this is a fun, must-see production.  If you are an avid theater-goer you already know this, and that’s why tickets are selling fast.

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