Backstage at San Francisco Opera > May 2014 > 5 Questions with John Bolton
5 Questions with John Bolton
John Bolton is one of a number of "triple threats" in the cast of Show Boat. A staple on Broadway stages, Bolton has brought characters as diverse as King Arthur in Spamalot, the Evil Critic in Curtains, and The Old Man (the dad) in A Christmas Story: The Musical to Broadway audiences. But the Great White Way is not the only place you may have seen John Bolton. No matter what your taste in television, chances are you've been addicted to at least one of the shows he's been on--whether it's HBO's Boardwalk Empire where he portrays Carl Switzer, the CW's Gossip Girl where he spent four seasons as Bruce Caplan, or The Good Wife, Law and Order or even All My Children and As the World Turns. But this month Bolton is here in San Francisco starring as comedian, singer, dancer and all around good guy Frank Schultz in Show Boat. We can assure you that what he's bringing to this production is unlike anything the War Memorial Opera House stage has seen. And we mean that in a good way!

Of course, audiences know you best from your extensive work on Broadway and television. Is this your first time working with an opera company? How would you describe the experience?
I am loving every second. It truly is like diving into another pool. Opera singers arrive for rehearsals “off book,” pre-coached and familiar with every specific pronunciation and note value, while stage actors tend to use rehearsals to shape their performances and learn their material as informed by the director’s blocking and the choreography. I am also used to having to do 8 performances a week (sometimes more!), so the two-or-three-a-week thing has me wondering how I’ll deal with a much different trajectory in terms of energy and focus. I SO admire the great opera singers with whom we are working, and they seem to get a kick out of us Broadway folk, so it’s a win-win situation.

John Bolton as Carl Switzer on HBO's Boardwalk Empire

You’ve got a number of other Broadway heavyweights in the cast of Show Boat. Did you know Kirsten Wyatt, Harriet Harris and/or Bill Irwin before arriving here? If so, how do you know them?
First I just need to say that I am absolutely crazy about my pal and co-star Kirsten Wyatt both on stage and off. She and I have many mutual friends in NYC, where both of us are based, of course, and we worked together last year on Broadway in A CHRISTMAS STORY: THE MUSICAL. And we laugh. A lot. I certainly knew and greatly admired Harriet’s work and we, too, have a million friends in common. And Bill Irwin. What can I say? When I first moved to New York, Bill was starring in a brilliant piece of buffoonery called FOOL MOON, which I saw several times, marveling at his hilarious, very physical, very detailed work. To get to work with him now is a really cool full-circle thing for me.

John Bolton as The Old Man in A Christmas Story: The Musical on Broadway
Tell us a little bit about your Show Boat character Frank. What would you say is his story?
The stage version of Frank is an amalgam of several characters in Edna Ferber’s original book. Frank is a performer who travels with the Cotton Blossom. Though off stage he is a little timid and awkward, he plays the role of the villain on stage. He has a huge crush on his co-worker, Ellie, and spends much of his time pursuing her in one way or another. They eventually marry and become a successful vaudeville act on the Orpheum circuit. He’s basically a good guy: a little quirky, a loyal friend, wears his heart on his sleeve, isn’t afraid to try new things. He’s a lot of fun to play.

Kirsten Wyatt as Ellie Mae Chipley and
John Bolton as Frank Schultz perform in Show Boat

What are some of your favorite works of musical theater and which ones do you think might work well on the opera house stage?  
With Show Boat and Sweeney Todd done more and more, and the Rodgers and Hammerstein classics gaining momentum in opera houses, I’d like to see Frank Loesser’s start-to-finish brilliant The Most Happy Fella join them. It has been done but it deserves to enter the canon more solidly. The score is glorious, the story human and compelling. I’ll also vote for My Fair Lady. Sure, we are all used to hearing Rex Harrison’s patented patter, but it would be loverly to hear it truly SUNG? And just think what the right soprano could do with Eliza Doolittle. Maury Yeston’s wonderful Nine, Titanic and Grand Hotel all have ravishing scores and are operatic in scope. As for my all-time favorites, well, they don’t make ‘em any better than West Side Story, Guys and Dolls and The Music Man, though the strong dance element in each could make it difficult for these to break through to the opera world.

John Bolton as Frank Schultz (on top of the piano)
with Heidi Stober as Magnolia in Show Boat

Any favorite restaurants or spots to relax you’ve found while in San Francisco?
BOY do I love this city. The architecture, the arts, the sports, the people. This is my fourth time here for an extended stay, so I’m happy to say I’ve done all the touristy things – some several times. I’m partial to the Musee Mecanique, the hike along the cliffs at Sutro Heights, North Beach coffee shops, dim sum in hole-in-the-wall places in Chinatown and drinks at Smuggler’s Cove. I usually stay in the Nob Hill area but this time I’m in the Lower Haight by Duboce Park, which I’m enjoying immensely. It’s great getting to know The Mission and The Castro. I just saw the wonderful Mary Blair exhibit at the Disney Museum in The Presidio and I’m obsessed with the work of local graffiti artist Éclair Bandersnatch.  I also loved watching hours worth of Bay to Breakers stalwarts go past me at the crest of the Hayes St. Hill a couple weeks ago. I felt like an honorary San Franciscan. Add in days off in Napa and Sonoma and I’m a very happy guy. And the FOOD. I’m a hometown proud New York City boy but I gotta say the restaurants in San Francisco are killer. The absolute best.

Kirsten Wyatt as Ellie Mae Chipley and
John Bolton as Frank Schultz in Show Boat

[Photos by Michael Shannon, Carol Rosegg and Cory Weaver]
Posted: 5/31/2014 12:46:07 PM by John Bolton (Frank, Show Boat)
Filed under: 2013-14Season, ShowBoat


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