John Bolton: 'Pageant''s Host with the Mostesse
Watching John Bolton play Frankie Cavalier, the smarmy, spotlight-loving host in the current Off-Broadway revival of the 1991 musical "Pageant" at the Davenport Theatre- in which six "women" (played by men) compete for the coveted title of "Miss Glamouresse" -- one wonders if this versatile actor is just even a more brilliant performer than we even realized or just a longtime fan of beauty pageants like Miss America or Miss USA. The answer, unsurprisingly, turns out to be both.
"I admit I was a big watcher of those pageants growing up," says the 48-year-old actor, who was raised near Rochester, New York. "I can remember the opening of those shows and you would write down your favorite states and got so excited when they were named semifinalists. In fact, there was this woman named Mary Therese Friel who won Miss USA in 1979, and she was from this small town near me and she went to St. John Fisher's College. And that's why I went to St. John Fisher's myself."
This longtime fixation on the pageant circuit, however, is perhaps just one reason the show's producers were so keen to have Bolton play Frankie that they approached him twice about taking on the role. "The first time they asked me, I simply wasn't available. And then just a few weeks ago, towards the end of my run as Frank in the San Francisco Opera of 'Show Boat,' I got this call asking me when I would be back in New York. The answer turned out to be two days before the first scheduled performance of 'Pageant.' But even though I knew I would have such a short rehearsal period, I said yes."
What would make Bolton do such a thing? "I had such vivid and happy memories of the original Off-Broadway production," he says. "And as soon as I read the script, they came back to me. So while part of me thought agreeing to do this was the most terrifying thing I've ever done - sort of like being thrown to the lions in the Roman Coliseum - I also figured it would be a blast!"
Admittedly, Bolton is no stranger to being terrified on stage. He's spent much of the past few seasons being chased by two huge dogs on stage as "The Old Man," a role which garnered him a 2013 Tony nomination, in "A Christmas Story," he was a replacement in the Broadway production of "Spamalot," where his major prop failed to work during his first night on stage, and he's worked on the Great White Way with some of the biggest stars in the world, including Sarah Jessica Parker, David Hyde Pierce, and Nathan Lane.
So is playing Frankie is a piece of a cake in comparison? "There are so many really great things about doing this show," admits Bolton. "First, I am able to use these index cards every night that help me with my lines. And since a beauty pageant is a one night thing, I think it makes sense that Frankie wouldn't have everything memorized. So it's okay if I slip up a bit.
"Second, I love that I get to interact with the audience, specifically picking the judges every night. While the 'girls' are introducing themselves to the audience, I am looking out at the crowd and trying to figure out who the judges are going to be. I look for those people with a twinkle in their eye or seem to be a showing a special interest in what's going on. I know there is nothing worse to be forced to participate as an audience member," he adds. "And third, it's great to play someone like Frankie, who just lives for his job. Being the host of this pageant is everything to him."
But ask Bolton what really convinced him to take the plunge, and he'll tell you this: "When you're on stage with six male actors playing women, the truth is no one is looking at you. That's very freeing!"