“Peter Pan” is flying into Artpark this week with a Rochester native sailing in with it.
John Bolton will play Captain Hook in the eight performances at Artpark starting Thursday through Aug. 7.
“This is really special for me,” said Bolton, who graduated from St. John Fisher College in Rochester. While he was involved in theater at LeRoy High School, his 25-year career in the fine arts didn’t really begin until he was in college, where he played small roles in local theaters.
“I began to focus so much on rehearsals and theater that I started skipping class for it,” Bolton said. “By my senior year, my parents just kept saying, ‘Just graduate. Please graduate. Then you can do whatever you want.’”
Bolton did graduate with a degree in journalism, and then he moved to sleeping on couches in New York City to attend auditions. Auditions led to roles including “A Christmas Story: The Musical,” “Young Frankenstein” and other Broadway performances.
He also has had roles on television, including a four-season run on “Gossip Girl” and guest-starring on shows including “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and “Blue Bloods.”
Bolton said of all of his roles, this one is very special to him.
“It’s just special because it’s ‘Peter Pan,’ ” he said. “My parents had the record. I knew the songs. I grew up in a house with a lot of music. ... It’s something that’s always been in my life.”
Although many of the attendees of “Peter Pan” will likely identify the name with the Disney movie, Bolton said his first thought is the musical.
“It’s something that I’ve always admired,” he said. “Not just the James Barrie novel or the Disney version, but I do love those as well.”
The musical has a connection to Bolton’s younger years beyond the record his parents owned. When he was just getting into serious theater in college, the tour of “Peter Pan” came for a week to Rochester.
“I saw it on a Tuesday night and I said ‘I want to see this again’ and someone said ‘You know you can usher and see the show for free every night,’ ” Bolton said. “I walked right up to the person working and said ‘I want to usher.’ ”
Bolton said sitting in the audience for seven performances in a row of one show allowed him time to observe how things were done on stage and what the audience would laugh at. Now that he’s performing, he wants to stay true to the role of Captain Hook while adding his own spin.
“I’m so thrilled that I get to play this iconic role,” Bolton said. “I’ve played well-known roles before like the dad in ‘A Christmas Story’ and the Gene Wilder role in ‘Young Frankenstein.’ The audience has expectations from a role, so they want to have someone giving them what they think they want, but at the end of the day I’m still me; I want to make it my own in a way.”
Traditionally, the actor cast as Captain Hook also doubles and plays the father of Wendy, Michael and John, but Bolton said he had forgotten about that and was excited to embody both roles.
“I’m really enjoying playing the father because it was a nice surprise for me,” he said.
So far, “Peter Pan” has been great, Bolton said. But there is one downfall to his role.
“My one regret is that I don’t get to fly,” he said.
What: “Peter Pan”
When: Thursday through Aug. 7
Where: Artpark, Lewiston
Tickets: $25 to $55 adults with child, senior and group discounts