Fun Interview With Christian Hoff

• March 27, 2015 • Comments (0)

Christian Hoff – From Child Actor to Midtown Man

BroadwayWorld Interview:  by Heidi Scheuermann,


Coming to New Orleans tomorrow night is an act that no JERSEY BOYS loving theatergoers, including myself, are going to want to miss! THE MIDTOWN MEN, four original cast members from the Broadway hit JERSEY BOYS (Christian Hoff, Michael Longoria, Daniel Reichard, J. Robert Spencer) have come together and have formed their own music group which brings to life the music of the 60’s in what’s sure to be an energy packed show.

Among the four MIDTOWN MEN group members is a pretty awesome person named Christian Hoff, and I had the privilege of speaking with him for almost an hour about his early career as a child actor, his journey to becoming a Tony Award winner for his role in JERSEY BOYS, and his transition from Broadway star to touring band member. There’s no doubt about it. Christian loves his lifelong job as an actor/singer/business man/artist, and it certainly shined through during our conversation:

So you’re from California, and you involved yourself in community theater when you were a very little kid, you went to a performing arts high school, and you haven’t stopped performing since then. This is something you’ve quite literally been doing your entire life. Where does the passion come from? How have you been able to do this for so long without burning out?

Well, you know, the thing about doing what you love to do is you look for opportunities to do it. Right? I got hooked when I was a kid. The first time I stepped out on stage it was sort of like being on the pitcher’s mound, which is what I thought I was gonna do was be a baseball player, and you can control the outcome of the game. That was something that as a storyteller I realized that you are in total control of something. You know what I mean? You affect other people, and if it doesn’t go great then you can fix it. I just love doing it. So I got hooked right away, and then I started storytelling, and when I stepped out on stage I knew it’s what I wanted to do with my life.


Even as a kid this is something you knew that’s what I’m going to do with my life?

Yeah, it just sort of fit. I never thought I was gonna be able to. I was always sort of stretched, and I still am. I always try to stretch myself beyond what I think I can do. You kind of keep raising the bar in your mind, your expectations of yourself, and the discipline. And the thing about doing what we’re doing now is we do hundreds and hundreds of shows, and sometimes, like next month, we have 18 shows in 28 days in like 15 states. So what happens with that is then it’s just a matter of stamina and that I learned early on… the craft of being an entertainer and the sort of diligence and just being part of a tradition that was bigger than me. I love that team aspect. That’s really playing a part right now in starting our own band and our own trajectory as four entertainers from Broadway (that’s where we met). To start a band and to tour the country singing and telling our own story is very unique. It’s not something that I expected, and it’s definitely out of our comfort zones as far as what we anticipated. Going into JERSEY BOYS we thought ok well now we’ll move on and do another show after, and you keep re-defining yourself like that. But, to re-define yourself and be in a band for five years now is pretty cool. It’s very different. It’s a different role altogether, but bottom line is it’s the same stuff. There’s the audience, there’s storytelling, the music, there’s lights, the sound. It’s great. It’s exactly what we were born to do; it’s just in a different arena now.

Who have been some of your biggest influences over all of your years of performing?

Well, ok, so in the audio world, or the voicing world I broke a world record for an audio book that I did because of the number of characters. I actually surpassed Jim Dale’s record for Lord of the Rings… I think it was Lord of the Rings, and I’ve done voices all my life. Cartoons and voices for commercials and everything, but so in the cartoon world I was the original Richie Rich at Hanna-Barbara [Productions]. This is long before your time, my friend. Imagine this… a little kid doing the voice of Richie Rich, which at the time was a new cartoon, and walking the halls… They’re making Scooby-Doo and The Jetsons and Yogi Bear… all of the cartoons that I was watching at the time. I sit down in the room and we’re recording my character, we’ve got a bunch of voice actors, and next to me is the guy who is voicing my dog. His name was Dollar, and the guy who did that voice did all of the animal voices, among other voices, but all the great animal voices. And, I found out by virtue of sitting next to him when he would go into all of these other characters and kind of just have fun with me so my dog would all of a sudden sound like Scooby-Doo or Astro or Dino from The Flinstones. He would always do that, and that blew my mind that he could do all those voices. And still is alive and well, still doing voices for film and TV. His name is Frank Welker. Long story short, Frank Welker, big influence.

The second person that really had an influence on me was Shirley MacLaine. The very first TV film was called “Every Little Movement” starring Shirley MacLaine, and I’ll never forget working with her, dancing with her, singing with her, and her pulling me aside and she said, “If you have the will, just see it through,” she called me ‘young fella’ at the time, “If you have the will, then see it through. Your life will never be the same.” She wrote that on our script and I think she handed me and orange slice and a handful of trail mix. But looking in her eyes and seeing her… and she’s such an entertainer, she’s an actor, we worked hard together we sweated together, we ate together, and seeing someone as gifted and as sort of transcendent as she is as a star and as a performer… to meet the person who was behind that and be encouraged by her really got my attention because she could see who I was for who I was, and not for what I was doing. It was like I see you as an entertainer that can do this all your life if you have the will to see it through. That’s helped me go through a lot of different phases. As a child actor, going through all the different transitions, basically from child actor to adolescent actor to young man to playing adults has just been… you constantly have to re-define yourself and re-imagine and re-teach other people how to see you, and that’s hard in show biz sometimes… but, not for a theatre actor. I think I learned early on how to keep at it.

And then in the music world I think Pete Townshend was my first music inspiration… guitar player for The Who, and he wrote THE WHO’S TOMMY, and he was an amazing influence on me just how he could command, very humbly command attention and draw you in and tell stories and communicate with you. He does the same thing with the press. He’s just amazing at commanding the room and getting his point across no matter what’s coming at him. I think that’s kind of cool. And he’s also a great businessman, too… publisher, entrepreneur, songwriter, guitar player… everything that I am.

And then from the directing world I would say the greatest director… I mean I worked with Hal Prince, that was amazing. That was my first Broadway show was in EVITA. I was in the West Coast production of EVITA, and just having Hal Prince there directing and having someone tell me who Hal Prince was… “Do you know who that is?” I’m like… “He’s the director?” They said, “Yeah that’s the director. His name is Hal Prince, and he is an amazing visionary and it’s such an honor to be in the show because he’s so involved and someday you’ll look back on this and go ‘whoa’. But right now, yeah, he’s just your director.” And so that was pretty darned cool. And then when I worked with Des McAnuff who directed THE WHO’S TOMMY, he brought me back basically into show business after taking a break with the role of Tommy. And, the role of Tommy in JERSEY BOYS, before there was even the script… he was looking for me, and he said, “Where are you? I can’t find you.” I said, “I’m sitting at my desk at my home and my kids are doing their homework on the couch. He’s like, “No, I mean like what are you doing? Are you still acting?” And I said, “I don’t know. What’ve you got?” And he says, “Well, you need to come in.” I said, “When?” “Right now.” I bring my kids to the audition, and my guitar, and I sang and there’s no script and we just ad-libbed, and he came around the table and he put his arm around me and said, “What are you doing in two months?” And I knew at that point in time that we were going to be collaborating again, and doing something very cool. He told me what it was about, the story of The Four Seasons, and we’re writing it now. So, I got to be part of a show that was being created around me, and with me, and through me. I think that’s what really helped me win the Tony Award was creating this character from the inside out. It wasn’t just that he was an Italian-American, and he was kind of a hot head, and he was the leader of the group until he left… it was about me. It was about my essences and things that Des as a visionary director saw in me, and that really helped because it was an acting stretch for me and yet it was all in my essences, my wheelhouse because he knows what I’m capable of… who I am inside.

How wonderful that you’ve had people around you from childhood until now that see that potential in you and have helped you to rise to the challenge. That’s really great! So let’s talk about that Tony Award since you mentioned it. You were the Tony Award winner for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for your role in JERSEY BOYS. Take me through your Tony’s experience. What was it like learning that you were nominated and then actually going on to win?

I remember that day when the nominations came out. My publicist called me in the morning and… I knew they were coming out that day, but the way I work is that it’s all about the work… it was just another show day. I was just kind of in my bed with my wife and we were just waking up and getting ready for the day, and I got a call and she goes, “Well, my friend, you got the nomination for a Tony Award.” And I was just like… my heart stopped and I was just blown away. I was like, “Really? That’s awesome.” It wasn’t that I was like shocked that I got nominated because I knew what I was doing was really special, it was more just like pride… just proud that what I was doing was affecting people. That’s why I started… it was about telling stories, it was about changing the way the audience saw something or saw a situation or saw me, and to be able to be recognized for that was a validation. Then we go through the nomination period, right? People are talking and speculating and they’re congratulating you and you’re just blown away. So, I figured that was it. I figured well this is the win, this was all… it was this validation, and so I kept going about my business, and tuning out all the distractions of the world like I do when I’m working hard on a show. When it comes to show time I’m digging in. I don’t listen, I don’t read reviews, I don’t pay too much attention to what people say. It’s just me, and the character, and director, and the story, right? I dug in the trenches of doing that and just continued to live in this character and grow, and that’s all I could do… what my most joyful days were like just days when I forgot about all of what was going on around me and just did the show and played to that audience that it could’ve been their first Broadway show or maybe their last Broadway show, and I wanted to affect them, I want to make it different for them. I did the show for over 1,500 performances. I think it was like 10% of my life at the time I built this character’s shoes, and which is a lot. I mean 10% of your life to be playing another character. But to answer your earlier question, that’s kind of what gets me going, too, is that the passion comes from loving to perform and loving every opportunity I get to do it. Whether it’s my first show or my billionth show it will always be about connecting to the audience in what I’m saying in the story. But then, ok, so Tony Awards… so here we are now, ok… On the day, here’s how it goes… You have to get up early and you go to Radio City Hall and you do a sound check and you rehearse… and then you have a matinee. So this is I think a Sunday, right? So then we go to the theatre, I do the show that we’re going to later perform on the Tony Awards, and my name will come up, and I’ll get to that process. But, I wasn’t even thinking about that. It was all about executing the day. We go, we do our show. After the show, which was great, after the show we go to Radio City Hall, and we do the pre-press and the red carpet and all that fun, fun stuff just enjoying being a part of… you know, this is an American tradition. Being an actor on Broadway, the Tony Awards, and I’m on top of the world. I’m with my friends, my partners that we all kind of stuck together as much as we could, but it was… I was just proud to represent the company and to represent all the actors in my category. So then I just tried to enjoy the Tony Awards as much as I could knowing that I was going to perform. That was my next thing to do was perform on the Tony Awards, which I knew I was going to do that so we were just living in it and all the changes that we had to do for the performance, so that’s where my focus was. But, meanwhile there’s photographers, there’s press, there’s people talking, I’m seeing celebrities, people are talking to me, they’re asking me about the show and congratulating me and all this other stuff, and I’m just there to work. And then I perform on the Tony Awards, which you can check out on YouTube, a really fun performance that we got to do with a great response. And then I’m escorted back to my seat because my category is next. So literally I get out of my costume, back into my tux, I’m sitting down… the minute my butt hits the seat it’s my category, and my wife and I were holding hands and so all of a sudden I’m like what this is so surreal. Then they listed the names of the four actors, myself included, and that was very surreal. And then, “And the Tony Award goes to Christian Hoff.” And, if you YouTube it…

…I have seen it, you looked absolutely stunned!

It was just like, it was like I had already won in my mind. I was nominated, I was in a hit Broadway show, I was doing what I love to do. It was like a gift that… the real gift is at the bottom, and you didn’t know. It’s like this diamond ring or the winning lottery ticket when it was part of a gift already. It’s like a house and then all of a sudden it’s oh well this is just a guesthouse and there’s keys to the mansion next door. That’s what it was like. It was humbling, but it was also exhilarating, and I think I share that experience with every winner and every actor that steps out on stage and is proud and happy to be there. That’s how I felt. I was representing what I signed up for when I was 8-years-old, and that’s to be the best actor and to go out there and give your all.

And then you’ve got to get up there after going through that flood of emotions and give your acceptance speech!

Oh yeah, we didn’t really prepare it. I didn’t write a speech, but I knew what… I had already processed what it meant to me and so that I knew was going to be… that’s all I needed to do. I was ready for that speech, but I hadn’t written it, and so it just came out very off the cuff as all really good things do. It’s how you feel about it. That’s what people remember… how you feel, not what you say. And how you say it, of course. That’s the result of just truth. It was a great, true moment for me. One I’ll carry with me always, and I do, whether it’s going to be back on Broadway or film or TV, as a writer or director… whatever. I will always carry that experience, and I share that with young actors and even young people or anybody that’s doing something that they love to do. Do it because you love to do it. Don’t do it because you want to get recognized. And then you will be recognized in ways that are transcendent. And that was a transcendent moment for me.

I think that most people who have heard your name before, they recognize you from JERSEY BOYS. The show just exploded. It has phenomenal music, the story is wonderful… Now that there’s a movie really everybody knows it. Even if you’re not necessarily a Broadway fan, you’ve heard of it. What do you think is the secret ingredient that JERSEY BOYS has that just draws people in? I think it’s such a perfect show, it’s so good.
Exactly, I think the story is what’s so cool that surprises people. Everyone anticipates it’s gonna be good music and this great era, but it’s the way it was crafted and written, and I think that ultimately the book and the direction are the true champions here. I had a hand in it, of course, since it was written around me, through me, for me. And, for all of us guys… Bobby [J. Robert Spencer], who I work with now, he was an original. The moment JERSEY BOYS started we were sitting around a table and we hadn’t read anything yet or sung anything yet and Daniel Reichard and I were there… just the three of us that are in the MIDTOWN MEN were a part of JERSEY BOYS before it even existed, and that’s something very special that’s carrying through in the success of the MIDTOWN MEN. And then Michael [Longoria] was the original Joe Pesci on Broadway, and the alternate for Frankie… he doubled Frankie Valli vocally every show, but he also performed it at matinees and then took over the second or third year. We had a different Frankie at the beginning, a brilliant actor who created the role. His name is David Noroña, and he is the unsung hero of JERSEY BOYS because he, along with Daniel and Bobby and I, created this foursome, this quartet. It wasn’t written based on the guys. It was written based on our chemistry and our bringing them to life. So then when Broadway got it, he chose not to go. He wanted to continue his writing career, his acting career, it was too much. So that’s when they found John [Lloyd Young]. We opened our arms up to him and helped him find his own in the role, and it’s happened with casts beyond that. Michael took over the role and filled it in his own way. All the guys that we passed the baton to in different companies are able to bring themselves to it to a point. But, it’s all based on what we set out… there was a standard in the model that we put in this that they try to recreate with other companies, and they do it very well, and that’s a testament I think not to the performances all the time, but it’s the writing and I’m proud to have been a part of that from the beginning… the writing and creation of the show so that my stamp is indelible. You can’t take that away from this. I am Tommy, and Tommy is me. That’s me. The show is amazing. The design was brilliant. The score was brilliant. The underscoring, the orchestrations, the way that it was styled was I think a visionary approach and one that will be replicated. They’ll try to replicate that style. They continue to do that with MOTOWN and it’s success… BEAUTIFUL is another great show with it’s success… it’s all basic… it’s all JERSEY BOYS, the design and style of the show, and that goes all the way back to TOMMY. TOMMY was groundbreaking, it was the same director with a very similar design, very filmic, very visual, the use of projections, and concert audio. That’s the first time that was ever done to the extent that it was done because of TOMMY. Steve Canyon Kennedy who did just amazing work on JERSEY BOYS as well, he was part of TOMMY. So it’s just kind of creating a new view at Broadway, tying in that rock element which is now part of Broadway, but it wasn’t always.

And so then from that, from JERSEY BOYS, is the four of you now doing MIDTOWN MEN… you’ve taken the music from that show and other music from the 60s and created your own show. How did that idea first come up?

Well it first came about when we were in JERSEY BOYS we were asked to sing outside the show. We did concerts in Atlantic City. I’m in Biloxi, Mississippi now at a concert today. We’re working with The Golden Nugget around the country… Atlantic City, here in Gulfport, in Las Vegas this year. So it started going casinos and private parties. We were asked to do a party for the Jets, we were asked to do Katie Couric’s 50th birthday. But while we were in the show we couldn’t sing anything from JERSEY BOYS because we were under contract, so we couldn’t do that. We also chose not to do any Four Seasons songs just out of respect for Bob Gaudio, the writer and producer of all of the Four Seasons songs. So we started singing all of their competition… The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Motown, The Mamas & The Papas… you name it, we started singing. We said well we can bring Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons to life like this with our sound… let’s find our sound in these other groups. So we started arranging music right away, and that was eight or nine years ago… something like that. We started arranging our own tunes, and with the help of some gifted contributors along the way we’ve managed now to… gosh we’ve orchestrated and arranged probably about fifty to sixty songs together all with that same idea that it’s four parts so we each get to step up and sing lead at different times, and that was our assignment we gave ourselves. Anyway, we started singing outside of JERSEY BOYS and we said hey this is pretty cool that we can sing other stuff and make people dig it.

When we all left the show we took about a year off to do some other things, and we got back together for a couple of concerts and we said hey let’s do this for real. Bobby joined us then and it was the four of us back together again who started this when we did it on Broadway together, and we went for it. It wasn’t easy. We had to carve out the ability to do it, we had to defend ourselves from not being able to do it. No one had ever done this before so they were afraid that this was going to be like some sort of a “Jersey Boys light” or something, but we had already been doing the act without any JERSEY BOYS references or JERSEY BOYS music or choreography or the script. And so we just kept doing what we had been doing all along, and everything worked out ok, but no one had ever done that before. No guys from a Broadway show had ever created their own brand and still connected it, because we knew that JERSEY BOYS was gonna be the hook and the interest and it still is to a point, but we needed to be able to represent that we were in JERSEY BOYS and also define ourselves as our own group. That’s what we set out to do, and we’ve been extremely successful beyond our initial dreams. Now we have dreams… we’re always putting dreams out in front of us of where we’re going, not where we come from. Although where we come from is very important to us, we continue to grow and change and grow with our fans’ idea of who we are.

It’s kind of tough being in part of something still that people have certain expectations and yet we’ve always broken the mold. We broke the mold when we created the show. It was not a jukebox musical, and we set out to show the world what we were and not try to show them what we weren’t. We knew what we were doing was different. It defied any sort of label. They wanted to label it as another jukebox musical if they could. The critics had their idea, but we knew we were doing what we set out to do, and that was to tell the story in a very new and unique way and we re-defined a failed model of jukebox musicals… The Beach Boys one, the Johnny Cash one, what else? There was about a dozen of them at the time and people said oh yeah we can do what MAMMA MIA! did and we can just clothesline… it worked for them so why don’t we just clothesline a bunch of songs together and we’ll either tell a fictitious story or we’ll kind of tell a half truth or we’ll create a story about it.

It wasn’t anything new or exciting or different, but what we did was tell a story that would stand alone with a brilliantly written book. Marshall Brickman wrote “Annie Hall” with Woody Allen, Rick Elice who was a genius Disney exec and advertising exec and former actor. They got together and they wanted to tell the underbelly, the behind the music story, and they did it in such a way that is foolproof so that you can go see a show no matter who is in it and that book is, I think, the new star of JERSEY BOYS. The original stars are gone now, right? And, those initial performances that put a stamp on a Broadway show… you can’t shake it. There’s always something that is going to be missing, but what we found was is what the producers of JERSEY BOYS found that you are able to let the book and the story be the new star of the show, and you could put anybody in there and it’s gonna be a pretty darn good show. That’s testament to a great book and a brilliant story and score.

What has been the best part about working with your JERSEY BOYS comrades again?

To hear the answer to that question, and many more, click here to visit the website and read the interview in its entirety.

And be sure to check out Christian and THE MIDTOWN MEN tomorrow night at the Mahalia Jackson Theater. Tickets and more information may be found at the theater website or check out The Midtown Men website for full concert information.

**I  took a couple of liberties with the author’s post, adding my own picture and a few links**

Category: Christian Hoff, Concerts, Media

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